Lessened Lesson

The short story, “The Lesson” written by Toni Cade Bambara, compares the mindset of the lucky and the not so fortunate lifestyles but doesn’t reach any sure conclusion. Throughout the story we witness much commotion and seemingly there is to be some cause and effect, but I beg to differ. There is no singular point between any two characters that we will notice to have an everlasting impact. Sylvia and Miss Moore both seem to bump heads through most of the passage. Sylvia constantly wants to be better than her so she won’t have to listen to what Miss Moore has to say. However, we don’t really note any relationships being made, or any ground being covered among the kids. They both try and get the better of each other over aggression and force, but none change. For instance, in the last line of the piece, “But ain’t nobody gonna beat me at nuthin.” This sentence can be interpreted in many ways, but I take it as something good used for nothing good. Sylvia never wants to be beat, she always wants to be the best, but what stands in her way is her perspective of what’s important in life. She has great ambition and wants to be at the top, but because of her background, she won’t ever use her motivation for the betterment of herself. Yet, she will use her drive to do things like fighting her friends or getting away with stealing and that’s what I think will keep her at the social level she resides in currently.

In the Barn

Joy (Hulga) has an artificial leg and when Pointer takes her on an adventure it turns south. Pointer entices her into a romantic session that ends up in the loft of a Ban on Hugla’s farm. Pointer keeps questioning her about her fake leg and continues to ask for her to take it off so he can see what it looks like. When Hugla takes off her leg and Pointer will not give it back she begins to yell at him and demand her leg back since she can not move without it. Eventually Pointer gets up and leaves the barn stranding Hugla in the Barn by herself with no way to get around. Pointer is a fake bible seller and really steals necessities away from his “clients”.

When doing something for the sole purpose of stealing valuable items, why do you steal artificial limbs and fake eyes? I personally think that their are way more valuable items in a house than a customized artificial piece of the body for one specific person. What do you think Pointer’s reason behind this kind of robbery and cruel acts is?

“Good Country People” or not so much

I read the story the ” Good Country People” by Flannery O’Connor and I thought the story was good but the characters were so weird. For example Mrs.Hopewell was supposed to be this kind women but she was so mean to her daughter. She would say things like ” If you can’t come pleasantly, I don’t want you at all”(2), when she would try to walk with her mom. Mrs.Hopewell also had so many negative thoughts about her daughter and the most shocking one was that she had not come into realization that her daughter only had one leg. Even though the accident was over twenty years ago and you would think that Hulga would not have realized it but it was actually the mom. Also I think Mrs. Hopewell is super fake in a way. Like she not that fond of Mrs. Freedman but she still kept her in the house. Another example of her being fake was her blaming her daughter for not having a bible because she was try to get out of talking to Manley. I just felt like she did not have to lie on her daughter and she could have came up with a better excuse.

Are We All Fools?

A few weekends ago, my family had a movie night, and we decided to watch the thriller, “Primal Fear.” The movie follows a suspect in a murder trial. Everyone believes that this man is guilty, as he is seen running in blood from the crime scene. One lawyer who is taking a leave from his profession sees this chase on TV and immediately sees innocence in this man. The lawyer decides to come back to work to defend the suspect for free. 

Throughout the movie, we see memory loss and an overly apologetic tone in the suspect. Then the suspect, when angered, turns into another hostile personality. By the end of the trial, the lawyer is able to prove the suspect innocent because of his apparent multiple personality disorder. The lawyer believed that it was not the suspect’s fault and that this disorder does not define who he really is. However, after the trial successfully ended, the suspect turns to the lawyer and explains, “You are so stupid,” and “Did you really think I was that cute innocent boy?” This plot twist reminded me of the ending of “Good Country People.” 

Towards the end of Hulga’s date with the salesman, the true character of the salesman is revealed. When Hulga begs for her leg back, and the salesman refuses, we find that he was fooling her the entire time. He collects rare items such as that prosthetic leg or a woman’s glass eye. Once Hulga asks why he would do this because he is a Christian, the salesman exclaims, “I hope you don’t think,…that I believe in that crap!”(9). This exact line reminded me of “Primal Fear” because both the salesman and the suspect were able to play such innocent characters so well. The salesman, who once admired Hulga for everything about her and how brave she is, tells Hulga, “you ain’t so smart…”(9). I think it is significant to note that Hulga was the one who was proved a fool, though she has never been interested in anything ever. The one person who sees the “real” and the non sugar coated version of life, unlike her mother, is the one who is lied to. This twisted end makes you wonder: are we all fools?

The Man’s Desire for Money

During the summer, I had the pleasure of reading Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle. The story follows two sisters named Constance and Mary-Katherine Blackwood. They live with their paralyzed Uncle Julian in their late father’s house. They live in their own little world ignoring reality and their money-hungry town. The rest of their family is dead.

Constance and Merricat (Mary-Katherine) keep their father’s money in a safe that sits in his study. While their late father had managed the money, Merricat states, “I was not allowed to open the safe where Constance kept our father’s money. I was allowed to go into the study, but I disliked it and never even touched the doorknob” (83). In contrary to their father, the sisters disregard the importance of money completely.

It is until their cousin Charles arrives, the sisters are introduced to greed and capitalism.

When Charles finds Constance and Merricat’s father’s gold watch chain in a tree, he is shocked that a valuable item could be mishandled and forgotten about:

“In a tree,” he said, and his voice was shaking too. “I found it nailed to a tree, for God’s sake. What kind of a house is this?

“Its not important,” Constance said. “Really, Charles, it’s not important.”

“Not important? Connie, this thing’s made of gold.”

“But no one wants it.” (77)

While Constance and Merricat ignore money, their male relatives take an obsession to wealth. Throughout Charles’s stay, he is insistent on finding the safe and the girls’ money. Their safe takes the place of the capitalist patriarchy of America. Charles and the rest of the world are addicted to money, so when safe remains in a house where no one cares about money, its a success for the sisters over a world that embodies masculinity and capitalism.

If the Blackwoods’ masculinity relies on their wealth, and Constance and Merricat reject the desire for money, they have destroyed the Blackwood men and their oppression.

Like Mother Like Daughter

In Flannery O’Connor’s “Good Country People,” Hulga strives for independence from her mother. Mrs. Hopewell still sees her 32 year old daughter, Joy, as a child. “She thought of her still as a child because it tore her heart to think instead of the poor stout girl in her thirties who had never danced a step or had any normal good times. (2) Hulga recognizes this and begins to attempt to distance herself from her mother. Hulga changes her given name, Joy, to Hulga as a first step. She’s proud of this victory with her thought being, “One of her major triumphs was that her mother had not been able to turn her dust into Joy, but the greater one was that she had been able to turn it herself into Hulga.” (2) Mrs. Hopewell wishes to improve her daughter, ” If she would only keep herself up a little, she wouldn’t be so bad looking.” (3) Hulga recognizes her mother’s wish for her to better herself, and instead she decides to present herself poorly against her mother’s wish. For example, she decides to dress in, “a six-year-old skirt and a yellow sweat shirt with a faded cowboy on a horse embossed on it.” (3) Hulga decides to act this particular way due to her condition not allowing her to be physical independent from her mother. “if it had not been for this condition, she would be far from these red hills and good country people.” (3)

Contrasting Ideas Within “Good Country People”

In Flannery O’Connor’s story “Good Country People”, O’Connor uses many contrasting ideas, such as beauty, joy, faith, and their opposites. These contrasts cause the main conflicts throughout the story.

One of the main characters is named Joy Hopewell, however she is ironically characterized as neither joyful nor hopeful. Her “remarks were usually so ugly and her face so glum” (2) and she would generally treat her mother and Mrs. Freeman with disrespect and contempt. This attitude most likely resulted from her losing her leg at ten years old, leading to a disconnect with the name “Joy.” This inner conflict was then shown through Joy changing her name to “Hulga.”

Through the name Hulga, O’Connor also shows a contrast between beauty and ugliness. Ms. Hopewell thought her daughter’s new name was ugly, and was mad that “she had gone and had the beautiful name, Joy, changed” (2). Ms. Hopewell puts a lot of emphasis on beauty, despite seeing it in a less conventional way. She believed that “people who looked on the bright side of things would be beautiful even if they were not” (3). Ms. Hopewell values beauty and positivity, whereas Hulga values the opposite. This contrast motivates their actions throughout the story, and is the root of their differences. Similar to Hulga’s internal conflict, this contrast caused conflict between her and her mom.

Finally, O’Connor shows the contrast between those who don’t think they believe in anything, and those who actually don’t. Hulga says she’s “one of those people who sees through to nothing” (8). She thinks this makes her different from Pointer because he supposedly believes in god. However, she ultimately shows that she isn’t actually indifferent towards everything when she gets incredibly protective over her wooden leg. When Pointer notices that this means she does have beliefs and values, he gets angry, revealing that he’s been lying to her. He says that he doesn’t actually “believe in that crap!” (9) when she asks him about his supposed Christianity. Despite what both of them said, they were only putting on a front. Once they exposed their true selves, their contrasting values and beliefs caused conflict between them.

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.

Intellecutal 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.