Existentialism and Ecuador

The lecture/discussion on the idea of Existentialism held a significant place in my mind this weekend. I tried to play it off in class as if I haven’t thought about it much. I wouldn’t consider it troubling to me, rather it has reminded me of stuff that I learned this summer.

This summer I went to Ecuador for two weeks through a program called Global Glimpse. In the program, I and several other students from around Chicago were sent to Riobamba, Ecuador and were provided with glimpses into the lives of those who live there. Riobamba is a fairly large city in Ecuador, four hours outside of Quito.

One of my biggest takeaways from the trip was the understanding of the cultural differences between the United States and the locals of Riobamba. A common question in the United States is “what are you going to do when you grow up?” In Ecuador, you are born into what you are going to do. You live, you work, you provide, you eat, and you go on with life. There are those who do want to socially climb, but for the majority of Riobamba life is about just making the best out of what you have. Whereas in the US, we definitely give many systems the power that they run on: “success”, celebrity, etc…

When I came home, the biggest difference that I saw in myself was that I was significantly less worried about the systems of power that always seemed to be the “be all end all”: friends, college, success, sports….. Not that I didn’t care about these things or people, I just didn’t constantly worry about them. I was way more willing to take risks since I didn’t think about what others would think nearly as much as I had previously.

If you know me, I am a very, very, very methodical person. I like to take in all the information that I can gather before I ever make a decision. Ever since I came home from Ecuador, I have regressed back into that normalcy, especially since school started. Almost everything that I gained in Ecuador I have tossed out the window. This may be due to college apps, just always being around people, or the fact that it is hard to change a mindset that I have had all my life.

But the discussion we had on Friday threw all that I learned in Ecuador back into my face. Because of my experiences in Ecuador, I definitely agree with Existentialism far more than most of my peers.

However, there are still points of emphasis within Existentialism that I question. One being, I do not think that work is always a system of power. I have seen how work can give tremendous meaning to life. I met a man who owned a leather shoe factory, who only charges what is needed to break even. He could over price his product, and make a huge profit but that isn’t why he gets up and works in the morning.

Doing what you love is not giving power to a system, it gives power to you.

The system of work only gains power when people work in a field that they are not passionate about working in. If a person becomes a doctor for the money, then that would be giving power to the system.

Existentialism is going to continue to be on my mind even after this blog post, and I hope to exhibit what I find to be the best parts of it as well as question things that give me pause.

Death to the King: Reaction to Ending of King Hedley II

SPOILERS AHEAD….you have been warned.

I’d just like to thank the Court Theatre at the University of Chicago for the production they put on of the August Wilson play King Hedley II. The cast were incredible, and it was definitely one of the best plays I have been to.

Since leaving the theatre, the scene that left the most impact on me has been the conclusion.

The Death

How more tragic of an ending could there be than a mother who has always wanted to be recognized as her son’s mother by her son, and then killing her son with the gun that was given to her by her son’s best friend when she meant to kill the man she was about to marry.

The Wedding

I would describe King Hedley II as a scale with tragic and comedic elements on both sides with King being the fulcrum. Towards the end of the play there was tremendous balance between both sides. It seemed to have even been sent over the edge by the “wedding” between Elmore and Ruby officiated by Mister. In Shakespeare plays, a wedding typically signaled that the play was a comedy, and August Wilson masterfully utilizes this to lead the audience into thinking that the play was going to end with a happy ending. But with the death of King and the way in which he died, completely broke the scale leaving the audience understanding that the play was meant to be a tragedy.

The “Resurrection” of Aunt Ester’s Cat

Throughout the play, the reoccurring theme of repetition of history is clearly seen. Stool Pigeon hoards news papers to always be surrounded by recorded history of mistakes other people have made so he can preach to others to not make the same mistakes again. Tonya’s fear of making the same mistake with King’s baby she made when she was 18. Ruby falling in love with Elmore as she did when she was younger. Tonya thinking that King will fall into the same cycle as others and go back to jail or get killed.

August Wilson is displaying the trap of the institutional cycle placed upon African Americans of the 1980s to the audience. August Wilson is making the argument that even though King has died there will always be another black man who wants to get on the straight and narrow, there will always be a Mister who isn’t living up to his potential, there will always be a Ruby who keeps on making mistakes when it comes to men, there will always be a Tonya who can’t trust those who love her, there will always be an Elmore who is the father figure that King needs but will continue to be absent, and there will always be just another……… alley cat.

A Conversation About Kim

The short story “A Conversation About Bread” by Nafissa Thompson-Spires should have been titled “A Conversation About Race.”

Anthropology, at its core, is the study of humans, so it was only natural for both Brian and Eldwin to take notice of the white lady sitting near them. After rereading the story, both characters seem to be very interested in the lady (far more than bread).

But what is the purpose of the white lady’s presence in the story?

She’s obviously having an effect on the action of the story, so WHO IS SHE?

Kim

This is by far my favorite explanation: Brian is in a litigation over his ex-girlfriend stalking habits. After Brian first looks over at the white lady she immediately “responded to Brian’s attention by slumping farther into her book” (176). If the white lady was actually working, then she probably wouldn’t have even noticed Brian’s gaze. But a stalker would….I don’t think that it is beyond the realm of reality for the white lady in the story to be Kim.

Ex-Roommate

2. Now the theory that the white lady is Brian’s Mother’s ex- roommate may warp time and space……or does it? Perhaps, the white lady is an older white lady. Perhaps, Brian’s mother went to school later. I found it eerie as to why Eldwin asked ” was the roommate blonde?” (179), until I reread the story and realized the only physical description of the white lady is that she has blond hair. Eldwin’s question makes the “white woman across from them look amused” (179). Eldwin goes on and takes notes while Brian is lecturing him, maybe Eldwin is trying to piece the situation together just like we are now.

Fellow Anthropologist

3. The woman takes out “a little notebook with a pink cat on the cover” (181). Now why is she taking notes on their conversation? Is it since she really is “an anthropologist, too” (183). I just find it so strange for someone to take notes on someone else’s conversation. Even looking at the situation from a non-biased point of view, I still tend to find the details mentioned by the author to be so random. What is the purpose of knowing the “pink cat” on the cover of her notebook?

Just “a Kim”

The notion of “being a Kim” makes Eldwin contextualize why Brian has such a problem with his writing. In Eldwin’s writing, he is writing the story in a way that is confining the characters to the stereotypes society has for them. He is writing like a “white anthropologist” (174). But how is he “being a Kim?” As we hear more and more about Kim, we, as the reader, start to make assumptions about her. Eldwin refers to her as “crazy Kim” (180), shortly after Brian connects Eldwin to Kim. The same assumptions that Eldwin is drawing about Kim, are ones that white people would draw from the story that Eldwin is writing. The author makes the white lady document the students’ conversation to parallel the white roommate took pictures of Brian’s mom to elaborate on the point she is trying to make.

In the end the author decided to never uncover the identity of the white lady since it served no purpose to the message she was professing. Through “A Conversation About Bread,” Nafissa Thompson-Spires challenges her white readers to not become anthropologists when they are confronted by something or someone different to them.