Junot Diaz

I’m always intrigued by stories like “Invierno” – of an adult reflecting on childhood experiences. (To Kill a Mockingbird is one of my favorites.) This story contains some universal childhood anecdotes (fighting with a sibling, getting dressed up when guests come over). But there are also some aspects that are unique to Yunior’s experience of being an immigrant. His family doesn’t know any English, so they watch a lot of TV to try to learn the language. This didn’t seem to be very effective. Later, when Yunior tries to play with the neighbors, he can’t communicate: “We sat there for a while, my head aching with desire to communicate…” (141). I can imagine that this language barrier would be very frustrating for a little kid, especially since Yunior seemed so optimistic about befriending his neighbors: “This was my first real encounter with Americans and I felt loose and capable” (137). Poor Yunior never does get the chance to befriend his neighbors, though, because of White Flight. “In less than a year they would be gone. All the white people would be. All that would be left would be us colored folks” (141-142). I’ve learned about White Flight in a few of my classes. The racial minorities come into a neighborhood, and the white people promptly leave. This phenomenon leads to highly segregated neighborhoods. Because white people don’t want to live in predominantly black or Latino neighborhoods, property values in these neighborhoods go down, and the residents are left with poorly funded schools and fewer resources in their neighborhoods.

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“The Sun, the Moon, and the Stars” is earlier in the book, but later in Yunior’s life. He is an adult now, and has cheated on his girlfriend. Usually, I don’t have sympathy for cheaters, but I can’t help but feel bad for the guy. He seems to feel at least a little guilty about cheating on his girlfriend, since he keeps reassuring himself that he’s not a bad guy. The story starts with him saying “I’m not a bad guy. I know how that sounds – defensvie, unscrupulous – but it’s true. I’m like everybody else: weak, full of mistakes, but basically good” (3). (On another note, this quote also brings up an interesting thought about human nature – is it true that everyone is “basically good”?) Later, he again is trying to convince himself that he isn’t a bad guy: “I’m thinking over and over, I’m not a bad guy, I’m not a bad guy” (22).  Seems to me like a manifestation of guilt.

Like the White Flight in “Invierno”, there are also instances of racial discrimination in “The Sun, the Moon, and the Stars.” In a pretty blatant example, Yunior says “All of Magda’s friends say I cheated because I was Dominican, that all us Dominican men are dogs and can’t be trusted. I doubt I can speak for all Dominican men but I doubt they can either” (18-19). Magda’s friends aren’t even trying to hide their prejudices against Dominican men. In another example, Yunior says “When she smiles niggers ask for her hand in marriage; when I smile folks check their wallets” (16). This sounds to me like racial profiling. People are suspicious of Yunior; they pass a harsh judgment on him – thinking that he will steal from them – seemingly because of his race.

 

SMC Walk-Out

Attending the walk-out was an eye-opening experience. As a white person, I’m not always aware of the racism experienced by my classmates of color. I stood in Dante Quad with my fellow students for over an hour, listening to people’s experiences with macro and micro aggressions. These students have had to deal with listening to bigoted comments from fellow students and staff at SMC, whether it be because of their race, sexuality, gender identity, or disability. As a non-straight woman with a mental illness, I was able to relate to some of these students’ struggles, and I learned a lot about the struggles of students in other marginalized groups. A student talked about her struggles with being reduced to a fraction (half Latina and half Asian). She’s a whole person, not two halves. Another student talked about the discrimination they faced for being non-binary. A few students talked about Seminar as a dangerous place rife with offensive comments. After this open-mic session, I participated in a march through the library (which I felt slightly uncomfortable doing). Then we headed over to the business/registrar office, where  everyone gathered for another open-mic session. President Donahue was present at this session, and after a few people spoke about their experiences with discrimination and read the list of demands, he responded. He said that he promises to do everything in his power to make these students feel comfortable at SMC. After this, we headed over to the SMC parkway, where we stood on the sidewalk holding up our signs to get the attention of the people leaving Saint Mary’s. I’ve never been part of this kind of demonstration before, and I’m proud of my fellow students for organizing this event. I hope that it will lead to changes being made at SMC.

Rich and Plath

I’ve read “Daddy” by Sylvia Plath in other classes before, and it’s always very interesting to me. The speaker has some kind of Electra complex going on, since she marries a guy who’s just like her father. The speaker describes herself as a victim in relation to both men. With her father, she compares herself as a Jew and her father to a Nazi. Pretty extreme metaphor. She also creates a contrast with colors, describing her father as “black” and herself as “red.” Her husband she compares to a vampire, saying that he “drank [her] blood for a year, seven years” (73-74). Also a pretty extreme metaphor. Because of her bad experiences with men, she generalized that “every woman adores a Fascist” (48), but I’m not sure whether she meant this seriously or sarcastically.

I also find it interesting that she refers to her father as a variety of terrible things – A Nazi, a devil, a vampire – but it isn’t until the very last line that she refers to him simply as a bastard. It’s as if she is using these exaggerated descriptions to vent her frustrations regarding her father, and at the end of the poem, she is finally able to describe him more honestly and simplistically. I’m wondering if she always felt this way about her father, or if she came to this realization about him gradually. After all, she tried to kill herself when she was twenty so she could be with him again, but now she is metaphorically “killing” him. Interesting.

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In “Diving into the Wreck” the speaker emphasizes a sense of loneliness – “but here alone” (12), “there is no one to tell me when the ocean will begin” (31-33), “I have to learn alone” (40-41). She described the war-like qualities of her scuba gear: the “knife-blade”, and the “body armor”. She also conveys an obligation to complete this task, by saying that she is having to do this. From all this, I’m getting the sense that although she doesn’t really want to do this scuba diving thing, she’s doing it anyway out of some unspoken duty.

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A line that stood out to me in this poem is “you breathe differently down here” (51). This is the first time in the poem that “you” is used, and I am wondering who this “you” is referring to. A little later, the speaker seems to be going through an identity-split: “I am she: I am he” (77) and “We are, I am, you are” (86). What’s going on here? Is the speaker trying to include other voices within her own voice? Hmm.

The last lines of the poem “a book of myths in which our names do not appear” (92-94) is a call-back to the beginning of the poem, when this elusive book of myths is also mentioned. I’m not sure what to make of this. What is this book of myths, and why don’t our names appear in it?

 

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Ferlinghetti, Creely, Kerouac

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“The Vanishing American Hobo”, “I am waiting”, “America”, and “Howl” all have something very important in common: they convey a sense of dissatisfaction with the way things are. Some may call it “whining”, but I like to call it “knowing that things can and should be better, and not wanting to settle for anything less.” Maybe that’s just the sociologist in me.

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Sociology plug. Source

For me, “The Vanishing American Hobo” had the most similarities to “Howl.” Like “Howl”, it describes the plight of marginalized people, living on the outskirts of society and not really having a place to call home. In both stories, people are discriminated against for the way they chose to live their lives: “In America camping is considered a healthy sport for Boy Scouts but a crime for mature men who have made it their vocation” (2977). In “The Vanishing American Hobo” it doesn’t seem like the hobos are doing anything to hurt anyone. They are being punished simply for being outside when it is deemed socially inappropriate to be so. People are afraid of hobos, seeing them as “the rapist, the strangler, the child-eater” (2977) because of the way hobos are portrayed in the media. Kerouac describes “hoboing” as a way of life that is interrupted by police surveillance and the media depicting hobos as dangerous. (As a side note, I liked all the references in this reading, from pop culture references to religious references – Br’er Rabbit, Shirley Temple, Einstein, Jean Valljean, Jesus, Buddha. It made the reading more relatable and enjoyable for me).

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“I am Waiting” kinda reminded me of the beginning of a Disney movie. The protagonist, a wide-eyed dreamer, sings an upbeat song about the miserable conditions of their life and their hopes for a better future.  (Exhibit A, B , C …you get the picture). Like the Disney characters, the speaker of this poem doesn’t seem to have a plan as to how he is going to achieve his goals and improve his life (don’t get me wrong, though. I love Disney). Ferlinghetti continually repeats “I am waiting”, suggesting a passive nature as opposed to an active, get-out-there-and-do-something-about-it attitude. This could be because he’s afraid to take action. He mentions “the Age of Anxiety” (15) that could be preventing him from doing something about his plight. He’s stuck. I also got the sense that although he hopes for a better future, he is also anxious about the future. In this way, the poem really resonated with me. I’m also anxious about the future, and at this point, still unsure what I’m going to do with my future. As my college career nears the end (one more semester after this one!), The Future is getting closer and I don’t know how to feel about that. At the risk of sounding cliche, I’m at a crossroads in life, and it’s pretty scary. So in a weird way, I kinda relate to these Beat guys.

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Howl

This poem was pretty confusing for me. I had to read it a couple times to just understand what was going on. It looks like the entire first section is a description of how “the best minds” (1) descended into madness. Among other hardships, these “best minds” suffered from drug addiction, were homeless, and attempted suicide. They also had a lot of pretty unsafe sex. Usually, when you think of “the best minds” you think of philosophers, or highly educated people like doctors or lawyers. By describing the best minds as a very different group of people, is Ginsberg saying that these hardships are exactly what make these people “the best minds”?

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In the next section, Ginsberg uses a lot of repetition to really get the message across. He repeats the word “Moloch” about a million times. According to the footnote, Moloch is a Semitic God to whom children were sacrificed. Yikes. And in addition to that, Moloch is just a pretty rough-sounding word. Ginsberg then compares “Moloch” to war, government, capitalism, and American culture. He emphasizes each statement with an exclamation point, really demanding the attention of the reader (or the listener). By comparing these aspects of America to the monstrous Moloch, he makes clear his dissatisfaction with the country.

In the final section, he addresses his friend Carl Solomon. He again employs repetition, by repeating the phrase “I’m with you in Rockland” after every statement. This section seems a little more optimistic than the previous sections. Rockland doesn’t seem like a very good place, but at least Carl is not completely alone. He stands in solidarity with the speaker, who has been in a similar situation and has an idea of what Carl is going through.

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I liked watching part of the Howl movie in class. It was interesting to see how much controversy this poem sparked back in the day. It was also nice to see the poem actually being animated as it was read. I’m a visual learner, so I remember things better when they’re acted out like that.

 

O’Connor and Faulkner

“A Good Man is Hard to Find” and “Barn Burning” are both stories about dysfunctional families. The family in “A Good Man is Hard to Find” – consisting of a grandma, a mom, a dad, two kids, and a baby – don’t really seem to care about each other all that much. The kids are rude, to each other and to the rest of the family. The mom doesn’t say much. The dad seems very annoyed throughout the whole thing. The grandmother is afraid of making him angry: after the car accident, she was “hoping she was injured so that Bailey’s wrath would not come down on her all at once” (2781). When the Misfit’s henchmen are murdering her family, the grandma doesn’t seem to care, instead focusing on herself and the Misfit. The bond she seems to have quickly formed with the Misfit supersedes any bond she had with her family.

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The family in “Barn Burning” is even more dysfunctional. The young boy, Sarty, is constantly conflicted between family loyalty and justice. Should he listen to his conscience and tell the truth, or should he listen to his father and lie? His father, Abner, puts the poor kid in a terrible position by expecting him to lie to cover for his crimes. Sarty’s older brother seems to take his father’s side, and his sisters and mother don’t really say much. Another thing both families have in common is the lack of names for the characters. The grandma and the mom in “A Good Man is Hard to Find” are unnamed, as are the older brother and one of the sisters in “Barn Burning.” Does referring to these characters by their role in the family (grandma, children’s mother, older brother) suggest that this family role is more important than their individual identities? Hmm.

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The similarities between the Misfit and Abner Snopes are interesting. Both seem to be committing crime in response to being treated unfairly. In the Misfit’s case, he believes he has been punished unfairly: “I found out the crime don’t matter. You can do one thing or you can do another, kill a man or take a tire off his car, because sooner or later you’re going to forget what it was you done and just be punished for it” (2785). It seems as though he continues to commit crime because he believes he will be punished anyway, so might as well do the crime. He has been doing it for so long that he seems almost obligated to kill people. In Abner’s case, he burns wealthy people’s barns as an act of rebellion and frustration. As a poor man, he believes he is being exploited by these wealthy people, so he responds by destroying part of the property that makes them wealthy. Ironically, however, by repeatedly committing this crime, he is making his family’s situation even worse. They must live on the run in order to escape the consequences of Abner’s actions.

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Social class also plays a role in “A Good Man is Hard to Find.” The grandma is concerned with looking like a lady: “Her collars and cuffs were white organdy trimmed with lace and at her neckline she had pinned a purple spray of cloth violets containing a sachet. In case of an accident, anyone seeing her would know at once that she was a lady” (2776). Foreshadowing? The grandma also asserts her status as a dignified lady with her constant references to the past. Like most grandmas, she insists that the world is falling apart (“Kids these days can’t go one hour without their electronic devices! Back in my day I actually played outside!”). According to grandma, her youth was a much better time, when people treated each other with respect instead of shooting each other. Another indication of the family’s social class is given by June Star’s attitude toward The Tower. She obnoxiously declares that she “wouldn’t live in a broken-down place like this for a million bucks!” (2778). She seems to consider herself above a place like The Tower.

A View From the Bridge

“Oh, there were many here who were justly shot by unjust men. Justice is very important here” (2824). This quote is at the beginning of the play, during Alfieri’s opening monologue. I’m not sure what he’s getting at here. Is he being serious or sarcastic? Either way, this quote sets up the theme of justice that is seen throughout the play.

Eddie has gripes with all the characters in the play. He reprimands Beatrice several times for having “too big a heart.” Later in the play, he condescendingly demands respect from her: “A wife is supposed to believe the husband. If I tell you that guy ain’t right don’t tell me he is right” (2861). Here and several more times throughout the play, he insists that Rodolpho “ain’t right” (code for gay) and adamantly believes that he only wants to marry Catherine so he can become an American citizen. He’s obsessed with controlling Catherine’s life, telling her what to wear and who to hang out with (and who not to hang out with). He even tells her “Most people ain’t people…the less you trust, the less you be sorry” (2830), as if he doesn’t want her to trust anyone except for him. His feelings for Catherine are different than one would expect from an uncle/father figure. He seems to have a sexual desire for her, even though he’s been raising her since she was little. Eww. (Also – aren’t Catherine and Rodolpho related? Wouldn’t that also be incest? But I digress). Anyway, Eddie can point out the flaws in everyone else, but doesn’t really consider his own flaws. His incestuous desire for his niece, for one. Also, by the end of the play, he becomes the person he criticized at the beginning of the play. He tells Beatrice and Catherine about the guy who called Immigration on the people living in his house, and makes them swear not to tell anyone. He even says to Catherine, “You can quicker get back a million dollars that was stole than a word that you gave away” (2831). But at the end of the play, he snitches on Marco and Rodolpho, tarnishing his own reptutation. Hypocritical? Desperate? Mentally unstable? All of the above?

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Another interesting aspect of the play is the role of women/wives. Eddie and Beatrice are waiting for Catherine and Rodolpho to get back from their show. Beatrice can tell that Rodolpho’s presence in their house is causing a sort of downward spiral in Eddie. But she has noticed a change in him since even before Rodolpho arrived (three months, she says). She asks him “When am I gonna be a wife again?” (2839).I took this to imply that they haven’t been having sex, as if having sex is her duty as a wife. At another point in the play, Catherine also comments on this. She says to Rodolpho “Then why don’t [Beatrice] be a woman? If I was a wife I would make a man happy instead of goin’ at him all the time” (2856). So according to Catherine, the duty of a wife is also to make her husband happy. Which is a good thing, as long as it is reciprocal and the husband and wife are on equal footing.But unfortunately that’s not always the case, especially in 1950s marriages.

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Actual ads from the 50s. (Source 1 and Source 2)

Like in Of Mice and Men, the American Dream is featured in this play. Rodolpho and Marco come to America hoping to achieve this elusive dream. In Rodolpho’s case, he wants to remain in America and become a citizen. In Marco’s case, he just wants to work long enough to make money for his family in Italy, and then return to that family. In both cases, the American Dream relates to working. But it does not seem to be as unobtainable as in Of Mice and Men. At the end of the play, it appears as though Catherine and Rodolpho are going to go through with their marriage. Presumably, he will become an American citizen and continue working there, maybe as a singer. (Speaking of which, here’s a link to the song he sings in the play). Is this the American Dream that he wants to achieve? Or is there more to it?