Wednesday, March 3, 2010
Beloved tells the story of not just one family's attempt to deal with a tragic situation, while being constantly haunted by the victim of the tragedy, but also the story of how they got there. What drove Sethe to kill her child? And so Morrison provides for us a glimpse of the live Sethe led, the life Paul D. let, and the lives of those with whom they rubbed shoulders. We see slavery at its filthiest when we see Schoolteacher instructing on the animal characteristics of the slaves, when the women are raped, and the men hung from trees, burned alive, and broken like horses. We see slavery at its finest when Paul D and his brothers are allowed to share their opinions with their owner, who allows them to have guns, and treats them like men. Even in those moments, Paul D. acknowledges that he is only a man because the white man has said he is-whether the slavery is brutal and gruesome or simply servitude, the white man determines the worth and meaning of the black man's very existence. All of these events from the past combined create the woman Sethe was when she killed her daughter. Morrison challenges the readers with the question Who is really to blame? Sethe killed one child, the institution of slavery killed 'sixty million and more'.
In the Clearing, Baby Suggs instructs the people in a new form of worship: self worship. Baby Suggs tells them "More than eyes or feet. More than lungs that have yet to draw free air. more than your life-holding womb and your life-giving private parts, hear me now, love your heart." She instructs those at the Gathering that no one else is going to love any part of them, they are responsible for this love. Self love=self preservation, according to Baby Sugfs. And then there is Sethe. Sethe loves so much that lives outside of her. She laments to Paul D after Beloved leaves that "she was the best of me", to which Paul D replies (in one of the most heart achingly beautiful moments of the book) "You your best thing, Sethe. You are". Sethe has, in her mind loved her children so fiercely and strongly; however, because she fails to love herself, from whom these children come, whether that love is too thick or too thin, it isn't enough to survive. She needs that self love Baby Sugfs preaches on in order to survive these moments.
Tuesday, March 2, 2010
Margaret Garner- A Modern Medea
Toni Morison based Sethe's character on the real life Margaret Garner, whose story is all the more tragic because it isn't fiction, but a real life scar on America's history. Margaret and her husband and four children escaped slavery and crossed the river into Ohio only to be found and surrounded. As her husband was dragged away, Margaret grabbed a butcher knife from the table and slit her 2 year old daughter's throat. The men grabbed her before she was able to kill the other children. (interesting point here-the children of Margaret all had questionable paternity-all were lighter to white skinned, and born 6-8 months after those born to her owner's wife). "Why did Margaret Garner murder Mary, her own three-year-old daughter? According to Weisenburger, Garner had "a tangled skein of motives: despairing desires to 'save' her children, urges for violent backlash against the master who had probably made her his concubine and who might in turn victimize little Mary, and a destructive spite for her children's whiteness"(Eden, Edward: Modern Medea). While this part of the story is awful, what happens next is all the more sickening. The courts didn't know what to do with Margaret. The crime took place in Ohio, a free state, where they wanted to charge her with murder, while Kentucky, from which she fled, wanted to charge her instead with destruction of property. The southern courts won, and the judge found her guilty not of killing a child, but of destroying property. Knowing this fact illuminates the conversation between Paul D and Sethe when she defends what she did, and he responds "You got two feet, Sethe, not four" (194). According to the law, according to what her real life counterpart was charged with, whether she had two or four feet, she was property, not person, and had destroyed a piece of property, not killed a child. The indignity that must come from the courts of the country and the laws of the land saying such things about her and her children-I don't blame Sethe a bit for the forest that springs up between her and Paul D after that statement.
In the last words of Beloved, Paul D says to Sethe, "me and you, we got more yesterdays than anybody. We need some kind of tomorrow"(p. 322). Throughout the course of Sethe's life, the constant focus on the past directly causes her tragic circumstances. Toni Morrison uses the focus on past and present in this novel to make a point. Living in either one without acknowledging the other will lead to disaster in the long run. Sethe lives a life focused solely on her past, and in doing so, has no present, and thus no future. In Sethe's world in the 28 days leading up to her daughter's death, she lives in the fear of her past, specifically the brutal treatment she received at the hands of the schoolteacher and the nephews. Sethe is so affected by these experiences (and who can blame her), that they drive her actions in the present when Schoolteacher finally finds her. The actions in her present result in the destruction of her future in two ways: first, literally she destroys the next generation when she kills her daughter, and second, she destroys her own personal future, which will always be haunted by her actions in the barn that day.
The entire novel examines Sethe's constant need to live in the past, and the effect that has on the present and the future. Only when Sethe is able to exist in her present, while still acknowledging the past, will she be able to have a future. Toni Morrison uses this story to illustrate the very problems plaguing America. There is a tendency in this country to either focus so much on the grit of the past (ie: slavery) that the present and future cannot improve, or, on the other hand, ignore completely the past, making a hollow and somewhat false present and future. Both mindsets lead to destruction, and only when we are able to live in the present with an honest but not obsessive view of the past, do we have any hope for a future.
Wednesday, February 24, 2010
What a clever and insightful statement. I have always found it interesting the fascination white people have for Indians, minus the respect. There's that need to be part of the Native American culture in some way. My best friend growing up is Navajo and Blackfeet, and her dad used to tell me that their joke about white people is "everyone's great grandma is a Cherokee". Because that's what the Native Americans hear from white people all the time. This "we're part of you, we're related" sentiment, when in reality, it's probably not true-it's just this way to ease the guilt of the injustices wrought against that culture. If I'm white, but can trace my ancestry back to them, than I didn't lend my hand to the racism. But the fact is that the white culture who wants so much to be part of the Indian culture has killed the Indians themselves. and now they're ghosts.
Sunday, February 21, 2010
here's a toast to the folks on the pine ridge reservation under the stone cold gaze of mount rushmore
-Adrian Louis writes with such grit and honesty about his people-these poems are packed with honest power. I had to stop reading "A Colossal American Copulation", because you can only read that word so many times! But I loved the MAPs website on this poem: "And while Louis' catalogue of what deserves to be fucked ranges freely over late twentieth century America, there is nevertheless a persistent logic to its categories". It makes me laugh when lit crits talk about the persistent logic to the categorization of what deserves to be f*cked! And since I'm a lover of all things Bob Dylan, it was good to see the influence he had on Louis, though obviously Louis is feeling a little let down with dylan at this point.
Monday, February 15, 2010
All his animal references have me quite distracted this week, especially since my house has been inundated with the story "Click, Clack, Moo" as of late. All that aside, I think I'm really digging on Levine. This is my first experience with him, and there's something in the dignity of these poems' characters that really resonates with me. "They Feed They Lion", full of this anger that builds throughout the poem leaves me wondering what this lion-like anger will accomplish? It seems that while it comes from the suffering of the weak, it's going to devour whatever is in its path, those from which it comes included.
Just a side note:
My husband and I moved to Athens five days after we got married. The second or third week, we were attending church, and the Sunday school lesson was on having a happy marriage or something like that. The teacher asked me something about how my husband and I resolve our disagreements, and all these other women started raising their hands and saying "oh, she's only been married a month at the most!! She doesn't know anything about disagreements yet! Let me tell you how awful it can be sometimes...". And off they went on some of the horrible experiences they'd had in their marriages. This story reminded me of that experience-the idea of being newly wed, and everyone telling me how much it would suck for the next few years. Awesome.
Friday, February 12, 2010
"...It all depends on when you stop following the story."
-dialogue between friends recently
Is this story simply a story, or does Atwood challenge us the readers when she says that the plot is easy "just one thing after another, a what, and a what, and a what...Now try How and Why." Atwood tells us that the plot is generally the boring part-it's not so much what happens as it is the human motivations that make a story interesting.
Stories don't end happily, we the characters make them happy-the very fact that the story ends ends the happy aspect of the story-so there cannot be any happy endings.
Wednesday, February 10, 2010
Tuesday, February 9, 2010
I'll admit it, I'm one of those girls who has read a lot of Plath. I've read The Bell Jar, I have her complete collection of poetry-did you know she even wrote a children's book?! I have "Daddy" memorized, or at least did at one time.
"Ariel" has always intrigued and somewhat perplexed me. The poem seems to center around the moment when "White Godiva-I unpeel"-this symbolic stripping down-stripping of self, or of everything blocking and hiding that self?
to look--this inward look that society scorns--
Still I search in these woods and find nothing worse
than myself, caught between the grapes and the thorns.”
-The speaker has been a witch, a domestic, and an adulteress. She has been 'not a woman, quite', 'misunderstood' and 'not afraid to die'. "Her Kind" always makes me think of Sexton's poem "Kind Sir: These Woods", from which I quoted above. "Kind Sir" starts with a quote of Thoreau: "For a man needs only to be turned around once with his eyes shut in this world...not til we are lost...do we begin to find ourselves". It seems that the speaker is examining the space between the double I's and in that finding her true self, or at least what she has been, and is not now.
Wednesday, February 3, 2010
Is it about abuse? I don't know. I do know that this speaker obviously has at least ambiguous feelings about his father-millions of people do not say "hey, could that be about getting beat" unless there's a bit of that tone in the poem. Is it about getting beat up while mom looks on, or is it just an examination of a relationship that was at times great, at times, dizzying, and at times very much like death itself?
Tuesday, February 2, 2010
"I have closed my heart-ears late and early".
Sunday, January 31, 2010
"The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn , burn, like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars." Jack Kerouac
I adore the Beats, so I'm looking forward to discussing "Howl". There are so many parts of this that stand out, but for today, I'll share these words:"who threw their watches off the roof to cast their ballot for Eternity outside
of Time, & alarm clocks fell on their heads every day for the next
decade,". Love It! And if you don't like the Beats, if you don't like what Ginsberg says, you can go back to your Emily Dickenson, that's fine. But seriously, how can you not fall in love with the idea of just saying to hell with it, and 'casting your ballot for Eternity outside of time'?! and of course, no matter how hard we try, the next morning we're hit upside the head with the alarm clock. And that's how the best minds of his generation were destroyed.
Wednesday, January 27, 2010
Hurston uses the story of Eden, and adds a wicked twist to create her short story. What I find most interesting about this story is the obvious role reversals. First, there is the title of the story: Sweat. In the Biblical story, God tells Adam that he will earn his keep by the sweat of his brow. Yet, here we see Delia doing the earning and the sweating. Also, we have the serpent. There is still enmity between the woman and the snake, as in the story in Genesis. But again, where Adam was the protector of Eve, Sykes is the antagonizer of Delia, torturing her through her fear of snakes. The most important scene in the entire story, is that final scene, as Sykes drags himself on his belly across the lawn towards Delia who stands under the tree, watching. He has become the serpent, and here she stands at the foot of the tree, again reckoning back to the story of Eden, watching as he comes to the same knowledge as she.
After reading this story, while I liked it, I wondered 'so what does this have to do with the Harlem Renaissance?' And I started to dig a little deeper. According to Barbara Johnson "Hurston's work is often called non-political simply because readers of Afro-American literature tend to look for confrontational racial politics, not sexual politics"(itech.fdcu.edu). Baum concludes that a tension exists between the black characters' attempts to assert meaning in their lives and the white world's oppression of those lives. "Hurston's assertion . . . is of a promising world outside the dominant culture, a world created by human beings as a stay against confusion, as a potent denial of sacrifice and suffering"(ibed). A lot of interesting stuff at work in this story, as well as the rest of her works. Many critics have often taken Hurston out of the political frame work simply because her works are not inherently race related.
Tuesday, January 26, 2010
The speaker in this poem warns his younger brothers to beware the white witch. Is this simply a warning to avoid sexual relations with white women? Definitely sexual relations between the races at this time was considered by both sides to be taboo, but the symbolism Johnson uses in this poem speaks of a more subtle relationship. "Her lips are like carnations red,/ Her face like new-born lilies fair,/ Her eyes like ocean waters blue,/ She moves with subtle grace and air,/ And all about her head there floats/ The golden glory of her hair." This woman's coloring is strikingly red, white and blue-she is the true American woman. "And back behind those smiling lips,/ and down within those laughing eyes,/ and underneath the soft caress/ Of hand and voice and purring sighs,/the shadow of the panther lurks,/ The spirit of the vampire lies." On further examination, Johnson is comparing lying with a white woman to embracing the American ideals. America advertises itself as "the land of the free", but the speaker warns his black brothers not to be fooled by any of it. In spite of economical freedom being granted African-Americans, the Jim Crow laws, and legalized segregation and subtle racism of the north, are perhaps even more dangerous than the "ancient hag and snaggle tooth" of which they are accustomed. Johnson's narrator says "your only safety lies in flight", referring back to the idea of Pan Africanism that Johnson and others supported.
Wednesday, January 20, 2010
The Magus questions what led them there. Was it Birth or was it Death? In Christianity, it is Christ’s death that makes His birth something worth noticing. No one would note the birth of a child in an obscure village in the Middle East, had not that child, according to Christianity, proceeded to suffer a heinous death and miraculous resurrection 33 years later. This is one aspect that the Magus ponders. ON the other hand, at his conversion, was he reborn, or did his previous self pass away? And if it is both, and the Birth brings only this other-world existence, then the only thing to do is await the next death, and birth into the next world.
Imagism and Stevens
The imagist movement focused on the use of precisely accurate language in poetry. One of the basic tenets was "to use the language of common speech, but to employ always the exact word, not the nearly-exact, nor the merely decorative word” (poets.org). Ezra Pound described the movement as "that which presents an intellectual and emotional complex in an instant of time." Pound, in listing what imagist poets must do, explained specifically, “Don't use such an expression as 'dim lands of peace.' It dulls the image. It mixes an abstraction with the concrete. It comes from the writer's not realizing that the natural object is always the adequate symbol”. Imagism based its philosophy and approach on the focus on the object, as focusing on abstractions and sentimentalities was considered dishonest. Imagists were also influenced by the Japanese haiku, as this form of poetry typically means more than is actually written, all while avoiding huge abstractions and overt sentimentality. Though Stevens was truly influenced by the imagist movement, and in some cases is considered one of the American imagists, he did find fault with the movement, as some images carry more importance to others, in his opinion. The heavy imagist influence is prevalent in both “Thirteen Ways” and “Study of Two Pears”.
In a Station of the Metro-Ezra Pound
Petals on a wet, black bough.
Thirteen Ways excerpt
A man and a woman
A man and a woman and a blackbird
Tuesday, January 19, 2010
"Nothing Gold Can Stay" was the first poem I ever memorized. I was eleven going on twelve, and had just moved across the country for the fourth time in my life. While unpacking my dad's leather bound book collection, I thumbed through his first edition of Robert Frost, and there it was-change is constant, and each change, though it triggers a sense of loss, leads only to more greatness. The dawn is lovely with its delicate colors, but the day is when we truly awaken. Yes Eden sank to grief, and with the Fall came both loss of innocence and a fuller experience of life.