Follow Your Own Destiny

This summer I started watching the Avatar the Last AirBender series, which takes place in a world where people can bend the 4 elements; water, fire, earth, and air. It follows a group of friends helping an all powerful bender, called Ang, the Avatar. This story shows the kids powerful growth and strength as individuals, and lessons about choosing your own destiny. From this series the most powerful quote I can pull is from a wise character, “it’s time to look inwards and begin asking yourself: who are you? and what do you want?” 

This series shares similar overarching greater human truths with Escape From Spiderhead. That which argues that humans are innately empathetic and are against conflicting pain on another innocent human. In this story we follow a group of teens who’ve committed crimes, and are sent to a facility that unethically performs out of body tests on them. Readers find the struggle in an unequal power dynamic, of the oppressed and oppressor. While the characters struggle with their emotions and inability to inflict pain on other patients. In the end of the story where Jeff refuses to give consent to take the drug and start the trial. This scene shows your ability to choose your own destiny and that the path our basic human principles (compassion and family) that we follow unknowingly. As Jeffs suicide to escape the system, lays way to a underlying greater human truth, that humans have a inhearit deposition to follow compassion. 

Similarly the actions and tests all these characters face shows us how empathy and freedom drive humans. As both these stories fight for freedom from oppression, driving a final question to question.  What side of the conflict are you on, good or evil? Additionally start wondering, are you following your destiny? Or someone else’s destiney for you?  

And Exit I Shall

For my summer reading book I chose “Exit, Pursued by a Bear” by E. K. Johnston. The story is split into 4 parts each surrounding a the main character Hermione Winters and the trauma she endures at summer. Johnston is able to create a new world in her writing but is unable to enchant, which Nabokov says is the most important part of storytelling. I also think that for the simplicity of the plot Johnston does not take the story anywhere new (or make better than nature). The message of the writing is the most important part but her writing does not add anything to the meaning, it just relays it. Johnston’s writing lacked a lot of imagery which was another reason the book was unable to enchant. I think imagery is really important in captivating an audience. Much like Sydney, I also chose it just because of the cover so I have no one to blame but myself for reading this book. I think if Johnston was to add a plot twist it could’ve made this read a lot more enjoyable and I defiantly should read the back cover of things next time I decide what book I’m going to read.

Intellectual Superiority as a Power Structure

In Flannery O’Connor’s Good Country People, one element of the complicated storyline focuses on the conjunction between Hulga’s non belief in “everything” (though her human feelings of privacy and connectedness to her identity are highlighted) and the impact it has on her perceived dominance. It at first appears that she is the definition of negative: she was dealt a bad lot in life and, to cope, made herself into a miserable person with no belief in the world. She thinks of herself as inherently enlightened for realizing that nothing matters and that, as she puts it, “We are all damned” (70). It also appears at first that the Bible salesman is her complete opposite: he has a similar condition, but instead of wallowing devotes himself to positivity and God. Hulga prides herself too much, however, in her power as a superior person because of her education. In the binary she sees herself as “educated” and him as a “country boy” with no real substance. She allows this view, which is only what she wants to see, to cloud her judgement; it opens the door to him to scam and take advantage of her. However, by parading as a foolish Country Boy, the boy takes her position of power and leaves her helpless, furthering the power cycle.

Escape From Emotion

George Saunders, “Escape from Spiderhead” approaches the idea of artificial emotions. With this in mind, as our world has evolved, emotions have become more standardized. There are feelings we are supposed to feel in different situations, rather it be the mourning at a funeral opposed to a celebration of life among other examples.

Our minds are programmed to feel emotions that are reasonable in a situation. The real issues come when ones emotions are unable to correspond with the present situation.

Saunders continues his artificial experimentation with emotion by displaying a human weakness regarding emotion. The inability to afflict pain on an innocent being. In the story this trait has to be deciphered from affection in order to test the effectiveness of the drug, but still with the deactivation of the drug, human compassion remains intact.

All Kinds to Make the World Go ‘Round…

In the short story “Good Country People” by Flannery O’Connor, Mrs. Hopewell repeats a phrase throughout the story: “It takes all kinds to make the world go ’round” (4). Mrs. Hopewell typically sees the best in people. Her daughter, Hulga, on the other hand, is the complete opposite. Hulga keeps to herself, hates talking to others, and never misses a chance to be rude.

The two have a very interesting mother-daughter relationship. Although Mrs. Hopewell makes it clear she dislikes the way Hulga acts, she fails to see that it is going against her own saying that it takes different people to make the world go ’round. She also preaches that nothing is perfect, but wishes Hulga was. Although Mrs. Hopewell might live by the sayings she often says, she does not apply them to her own daughter. The story reads, “Whenever she looked at Joy this way, she could not help but feel that it would have been better if the child had not taken the Ph.D…Here she went about all day in a six-year-old skirt and a yellow sweat shirt with a faded cowboy on a horse embossed on it. She thought it was funny; Mrs. Hopewell thought it was idiotic and showed simply that she was still a child” (3). Mrs. Hopewell is obviously conflicted about her daughter’s life choices. Hulga has even gotten her Ph.D. and her mother is still dissatisfied. Mrs. Hopewell believes it takes different people to make the world go ’round but that Hulga should be just like her.

Four Dollar Democracy

Imagine, if you will, a nation divided by race and dominated by the wealthy upper-crust of society. That’s not very hard, you live in it. Now imagine exploring it from the eyes of a child. That’s Toni Cade Bambara’s “The Lesson.”

Especially if you’re white, you probably remember a specific set of doctrines learned from your childhood. The United States is a democracy, money comes from hard work, and poverty is the product of laziness. If you didn’t learn it in the classroom, you learned it in the national anthem, in gated neighborhoods where the roads don’t run straight, and in hands holding cardboard signs by highway exits. This is normal. You shouldn’t be angry. Just keep moving. Stay in your place.

The field trip that Ms. Moore leads refutes this by crossing the usually unspoken boundaries. She wants the kids to be angry, and so she leads them to a toy store full of decadent wonders. When she suggests they go into the extravagant store, Sylvia thinks she’s “got as much right as anybody” (113) to enter the toy store, but “somehow I can’t seem to get hold of the door” (113). It’s this contradiction between what’s theoretically true and whats realistically true that causes the anger. The kids walk “on tiptoe” (113) in fear of something undefined. In other words, a class and race boundary. They are somewhere society says they don’t belong. A place where a simple toy sailboat is given the same value as a year’s worth of food for all the children present. A place made for people with that kind of resources to spare.

Sugar, one of the children, reaches the crux of the expedition. “I think that this is not much of a democracy if you ask me” (115). Sugar is right. The United States, a self-proclaimed democracy, may be the wealthiest country in the world, but close to half of all Americans cannot afford a $400 emergency. Three individuals hold as much wealth as the lower half of the country, while these same wealthy elite buy our politicians and silence what should be majority rule. If Bambara’s critiques were relevant in 1972, they’re now more true than ever before.

Dance in Distress

This past summer I picked out my summer reading book not knowing what it was really about. I read Exit, Pursued by a Bear by E.K. Johnson, which I honestly picked because of its cover. One thing that teachers always said to me was to never judge a book by its cover, but I never listen. The cover intrigued me by the way Hermione Winters, the main charcter, has her shadow leaping on a pastel based cover waiting for someone to pick it off the shelf. As I started reading, the story grabbed my attention and made it hard to put down. I use to dance when I was younger which made the beginning of this story relatable, but you would have never guessed what was about to happen. This novel is about Hermione being captain on the cheerleading team while being involved in a toxic relationship. Of course there is way more important portions of the book, but that would just give it away.

E.K. Johnson does a phenomenal job of using imagery to take you into Hermione’s mind and realize what is going on in her surface. There was a moment in the book where I realized how I lost myself while reading it for two and a half ours. Overall, I would especially recommend this book to a high school girl.

The Meaning Behind the Sailboat

In the short story, “The Lesson” by Toni Cade Bambara, Miss Moore takes a group of children into the city to go window shopping. While none of the kids understand what the point of it was, Miss Moore had her intentions. They stumble upon a toy store and see a sailboat in the window, “Hand-crafted sailboat of fiberglass at one thousand one hundred twenty-five dollars,” (112). These kids come from poor families and the idea of a toy costing that much in unimaginable to them. Sylvia, the narrator, says, “I read it again for myself just in case the group recitation put me in a trance. Same thing. For some reason this pisses me off.” (112). Miss Moore’s secret lesson is that some people have a worry free life, where others don’t. How the money spent on a thousand dollar toy sail boat could help a struggling family of six or seven. Sugar, one of the kids, starts to understand it. “that this is not much of a democracy if you ask me. Equal chance to pursue happiness means an equal crack as the dough, don’t it?” (115). Unfortunately, some people have to worry about how they will afford dinner and rent, where others don’t even have to think twice if there will be food when they get home. Life is unfair sometimes is what I believe Miss Moore was teaching.

A happy society?

The idea of mutual recognition is pretty much a dream if we’re being honest. Can anyone actually imagine a world where we avoid conflict and there’s no fighting for power? Because I definitely can’t. Jessica Benjamin’s ideas are incredible. They are truly valuable ideas that would help our society immensely. Everyone would be happier and there would be a focus on truly learning about people and taking them for who they are and what they stand for. But could that ever happen? Our society is centered around power and the dynamics of war, fighting, and conflict when we should be focusing on things like mutual recognition. Thinking about this reminded me of a practice AP test last year about the business of war and violence. The backbone of the United States is conflict, and while it would be nice to move away from conflict, I don’t see it happening. The ideas Jessica Benjamin conveys are awesome, but for change to occur they have to taken in small doses. Moving towards a less conflict focused society will take a long time, but could ultimately contribute to making the world a happier place.

American/Americanized

Come August this year, I knew it was time to crack open the long awaited summer reading book. But this time, instead of writing it off until the last second, I was actually excited to get into the memoir I had chosen. Author Sara Saedi quickly captured my full attention with her memoir, Americanized, in which she takes her readers through her childhood, her angsty teen years, all the way to her adulthood. But more than just simply putting her life story on paper, Saedi emphasized the struggles of living in America undocumented.

Looking back, there are many Benjaminian undertones throughout Saedi’s story. Her life was tattered with binary after binary, even if they weren’t explicit or publicized. As an undocumented family, the Saedi’s lived with the crippling fear of deportation; of being the other, illegal, less than fully human.

Immigration has become an increasingly polarizing and controversial topic in American politics. To many the conversation has become CITIZENS/aliens, a dehumanizing perspective which makes justifying extreme border security and inhumane reform the “best” option. But to neglect the rights of a human being on a basis of legal status, eliminates the possibility of achieving mutual recognition. This mutual state is necessary if we, as a country, are ever to build a healthy perspective on immigration. Saedi brings to light the current flaws in our system for those trying to gain citizenship. With her testimony in mind and Benjamin’s reminder of the necessity of a mutually recognized society, we must evoke change and empower a difference.

“Mutual Recognition”

While we have discussed before the many benefits of mutual recognition in our everyday lives. But what about the negatives? Would a mutual recognition classroom be in our best interest? I don’t think so.

If the teacher is brought down to the same level as the students, nothing would be accomplished. The classroom needs a figure to drive discussion and the flow of ideas. The classroom has to be a binary dynamic, where the teacher shares knowledge with the recipients. How could a mutual recognition function without a figure with significant knowledge on a topic before meeting with the group? The classroom would fall into complete chaos, which in my opinion could be worse than a “boring” lecture. While it is good to acknowledge the everyday usefulness of the mutual recognition perspective, it does have its flaws, such as in the classroom setting.

When The Emperor Was Divine and Negative Binaries

In Julie Otsuka’s heartwrenching story When the Emperor was Divine, she compiles five stories from the persepctives of five different members of a family. The novel tells the tales of a Japanese American family living in Berkely, California before World War II, their experience of being sent away to the internment camps during the war and what it was like coming home when the war was over. The stories she told were loosely based on events that happened to her own family. The experience Otsuka elaborates on while narrating the stories connect greatly to Freud’s theory of otherness and that one can only recognize themselves when they realize their differences from another person. Freud’s theory coinsides with how the Japanese Americans were treated during the war. Japanese Americans were isolated from the rest of the country and treated as prisoners and slaves because of their differences from Americans. Additionally, in the novel Otsuka furthers the U.S’s use of philosophical theories when explaining why the Japanese were put in interment camps from the forefront of America’s involvemnt of the war. The U.S loosely went along the guidelines of Benjamin’s theory of mutal recognition as well. Government officals as well as citizens of the U.S recognized the physical similarities between Japanese Americans and people living in Japan and grouped them into one whole. Giving them the ability to make the assumption that just because Japanese Americans originated from Japan they were presumed to be dangerous and spies of war. While at the same time they created the binaries of Japanese/American to give them the ability and the mindset that it was acceptable to control and oppress another group. Otsuka’s story opens the eyes to a lot of things many people are not educated enough on and it shows the importance of learning about the countries mistakes as well as triumphs.

Journey to gold

This summer for my summer reading book I read Courage to Soar by Simone Biles. The main reason why I picked this book was because I have always loved gymnastics. I was a gymnast myself until I got too tall and coaches told me to put my efforts into a different sport. Anyways, the USA gymnastics team has created quite the name for themselves, so I was very excited to read about it. Personally I know a lot of training goes into being an Olympic athlete, but I didn’t realize the extent of the training. Biles explained how many sacrifices her and her parents had to make in order for her to live her dream. I just found it so fascinating how much blood, sweat and tears it took her and most all Olympic athletes to get where they are today. It was a very informative book on Simone’s whole life journey which I enjoyed reading.

Lack of Mutual Recognition Today

Mutual Recognition is a theory made by Jessica Benjamin that allows people to realize that we are all human and recognize others. Today mutual recognition is lacking in a lot of areas in human life. People are going into a school system that doesn’t recognize them as people, and completely forgets about them. People are being fired because of Covid, and people just forget about them. Innocent people are being killed by the people that are supposed to protect them. We as a society need to see others individuals and truly take into account others emotions and lives. Mutual recognition can be restored with a lot of work. We all need to do better.

Power in “Dry”

This summer, for my summer reading book, I choose to read Dry, by Neal and Jarrod Shusterman. This book, set sometime in the future, details the events following a massive drought and subsequent water shortage in California.

Throughout the book, the authors illustrate the power dynamics at play within this water shortage. Those who have water have the power; those who do not are at the mercy of those who do.

While this is a central and reccuring theme throughout the book, it is most clearly demonstrated in Chapter 18, regarding a character named Henry. While everyone scrambles for the little water left in the area, Henry has a stockpile of water bottles in his home, and has been trading this water to his neighbors in return for expensive items. Henry holds all of the power in these negotiations; he does not need his neighbors’ items, but they need his water. When one of his neighbors makes a deal he doesn’t like, Henry acts as if the negotiation has ended and says, “If you’re not serious about this, I’m gonna have to ask you to leave” (Shusterman 188). Instantly, the neighbor scrambles to give Henry what he wants, so that he can gain access to the precious water Henry has to offer.

Henry and his negotiations are just one example of the power dynamics that play out throughout the book. Dry is an example of how important systems and dynamics of power are to storytelling, and how nearly every story is connected to power structures in one way or another.

The Emperor Was Not Divine

For this years summer reading book I chose, When the Emperor Was Divine by Julie Otsuka. The story is beautifully written and I think Nabokov would agree. Although, the story is told in three different perspectives and we never know the narrators names, Otsuka manages provide the utmost detail. The boy recalls, “It was 1942. Utah. Late summer. A city of tar-paper barracks behind a barbed-wire fence on a dusty alkaline plain high up in the desert. The wind was hot and dry and the rain rarely fell and wherever the boy looked he saw him: Daddy, Papa, Father, Oto-san” (49). Otsuka manages to captivate the reader by describing the horrible setting of a Japanese internment camp during a hot summer. Julie Otsuka also manages to capture the fear that many Japanese Americans were facing during World War II. The mother narrates, “Tomorrow she and the children would be leaving. She did not know where they were going or how long they would be gone or who would be living in their house while they were away. She knew only that tomorrow they had to go” (8-9). Once again, Otsuka gets the reader to feel empathy for the family and the hardships they will experience. Nabokov would, I believe, approve of Otsuka’s enchanting storytelling. As Nabokov states, “A major writer combines these three- storyteller, teacher, enchanter- but it is the enchanter in him that predominates and makes him a major writer” (32).

Superiority in “Good Country People”

In Flannery O’Connor’s short story “Good Country People” the phrase “good country people” is repeated throughout the story. It is introduced as a descriptions of the Freemans and why Mrs. Hopewell kept them around: “The reason for her keeping them so long was that they were not trash. They were good country people” (1). While O’Connor doesn’t connote that “good country people” are bad people, by instituting the distinction between Mrs. Hopewell (the person who hired the Freemans) and the Freemans, O’Conner demonstrates that “good country people” are inferior. Then, as the story shifts to Hulga’s perspective, Hulga makes it clear that she too looks down upon “good country people.” O’Connor states, “Joy [Hula] had made it plain that if it had not been for this condition, she would be far from these red hills and good country people “(4). These two quotations infer that the Hopewells believe “good country people” to be inferior to them.

However, as part of his ruse, Manley Pointer introduces himself as a “good country person” (6). This then leads to Hulga’s desire to seduce and shatter Pointer’s innocence (which she believes he has because of his status as a “good country person). Nevertheless, Hulga doesn’t succeed and as Pointer steals her artificial leg and runs, she cries, “aren’t you just good country people?” (14). She is in disbelief at his crime because she believed herself so superior.

Thus, O’Connor concludes her story with the notion that no person is superior to the other. Hulga believed herself morally and intellectually superior; however, in the end, it was revealed that she wasn’t.