Poetic Justice in “A Party Down at the Square” by Ellison

In “Twentieth-Century Fiction and the Black Mask of Humanity”, Ellison argues elucidates the African-American experience in contrast to the solely “American” experience. “When the white American, holding up most twenth-th century fiction, says, ‘This is American reality,’ the Negro tends to answer ‘Perhaps, but you’ve left out this, and this, and this’…”

To do the American experience justice, Ellison wrote “A Party Down at the Square.” It describes the lynching of a black man, burning at the stake. What’s most incredible, is the justice of the “accidental” events that surround the burning. There is a terrible storm that wrecks havoc on the the town’s infrastructure for three days, a plane crashes in the near distance, causing electrical wires to whip about dangerously, striking a woman and killing her instantly, and finally, the airline line “is investing to find who set the fire that almost wrecked their plane.” In all this, Ellison is saying that when you lose a man (of any color), you lose much more than a man.

The most striking element of this short story is Ellison’s prolific use of the word ‘nigger’. It’s painful to read, used over and over , dozens of times, often once per sentence. Not only does it conjure the pain of the word, and the history of oppression, but sadly enough it does the opposite: it numbs us to the word and by the end of the story it doesn’t hold as much strength; it becomes somewhat normal to describe the black man as such (as horrible as that may be); this technique is effective to call attention to some of the hatred we have normalized.

The overabundance, I believe, is specifically to hedge the use of pronouns. Very seldom is the man given “he” or “his” but rather described in parts: “the nigger’s voice”, “the nigger’s hands”, and “the nigger’s feet”; he was mostly described for the color of his skin; the narrator demeaned his experience: “Every time I eat barbecue I’ll remember that nigger,” which emphasized the cruelty and barbarity of the “party.”

The only voice the African-American ever spoke was “Will somebody please cut my throat like a Christian?” He once more proved his humanity and his will; he entreated his fellow men to end his life swiftly and mercifully (the inhumane irony doesn’t escape me). One ignorant Jed replies: “Sorry, but ain’t no christians around….we’re just one hundred percent Americans.”

Ellison, influenced by T.S. Elliot idea of a corrupted and decomposing sense of morality, may be commenting on the lack of spirituality and the increasing secularism of American identity. Rather than be united against a common evil or towards a common good, they divide themselves into black/white, man/woman, rich/poor and so forth. In this brief dialogue, Ellison seems to remind Americans the lack of faith and values they once had upheld.

In the end however, despite a belief in the higher power, the higher power believes in them anyway. It seems that some greater justice is served (to the willful ignorance of the townsmen) when all the consequent chaos emerges (environmental turmoil, death of a white woman, legal battles etc). One ultimately hushed white cropper stated “it didn’t do no good to kill the niggers ‘cause things don’t get no better”. Instead of subduing African-Americans, the lynchings incite anger and revenge and leads to increased amount of escape attempts.

While Ellison didn’t present his “Negro characters [to] possess the full, complex ambiguity of the human” as he criticized other authors, but he did present a new American reality. He used poetic justice to represent the grueling experiences of “slavery, full citizen ship, stigma of color, and enforced alienation.” He demonstrates that to hurt one of our countrymen is to hurt all countrymen.

Wholesomeness in “The Secret Sharer” by Joseph Conrad

Perhaps I’m too biased to properly write about this short story: male dominant sea stories are my least favorite (My peers get a good laugh when I say that I love Moby Dick up until they get onto the water) . But I did it; I read it. It is a psychological adventure tale, simple enough to understand. It definitely had moments of suspense and certain pages had me hold my breath in fear for its characters. Overall, I’d not recommend it as a challenging read.

This story is about a young man Leggatt, who committed a murder upon the ship Sephora, a previous ship to which he felt he did not belong anyway; he was an outsider. Naked and cramped, he floated by the ladder, clinging for his life, and asked for the captain. The captain had already been engaged in conversation with him, and identified himself.  Thereon, the Captain (nameless, featureless, and narrating in first person) calls Leggett his other self. Continue reading “Wholesomeness in “The Secret Sharer” by Joseph Conrad”

Escapism in “Paul’s Case” by Willa Cather

Paul is described to be fragile in physique and in character. “Paul was tall and very thin with high, cramped shoulders and a narrow chest” with abnormally large pupils and a tendency to wear flowers in his shirt pocket. In class, his teachers called him defiant, disorderly, and impertinent. The issue was that he didn’t hide his contempt; they complained that he made every physical sign—twisting away from their touch, shading his eyes, smiling at the wrong time, twitching, and gazing out the window–of withdrawal. For this, they wanted to suspend him. They wanted to suspend him. They wanted to suspend Paul simply because it made them feel insulted or uncomfortable; Paul was being punished for being slightly out of touch. “I didn’t mean to be polite or impolite, either. I guess it’s a sort of way I have of saying things regardless.” Is having no regard such an offense? The teachers finally realized that the boy was no defiant but had nervous tics and consequently they felt “humiliated to have felt so vindictive toward a mere boy”. The tables turn.

Paul is an usher at the local concert hall, where he gains access to and frequently enjoys the company of Gounod, Raffaelli, Rick, Augustus, and Alexandros of Antioch. “He was a model usher; gracious and smiling…nothng was too much trouble…as if it were his greatest pleasure in life…and all the people in his section thought him charming, feeling that he remembered and admired them.” Paul felt as if he were the host and was delighted, if not proud of himself and his status.

The juxtaposition of the settings reaffirmed what a place can make a person. In one, he is a mockery where pretentious and false persons openly expose their fangs and claws to rip the young boy to pieces; in the other, the “high” society of art, history, and culture, he is loved and adored. His smile is no longer a menace but of earnestness. Ironically, Paul subsequently looks down patronizingly at his teacher (who had been invited as charity), thinking “what business had she here among all these fine people and gay colors?” He decided that she was not “appropriately dressed and must be a fool to sit downstairs in such togs.” Paul had become as caustic and false as his teachers. He, like his teachers in theirs, had become too comfortable in his realm. Continue reading “Escapism in “Paul’s Case” by Willa Cather”

Magical Disenchantment in “Boy, Snow, Bird” by Helen Oyeyemi. Review.

If vanity could kill, this book would be murder. Oyeyemi’s tale is winding; the plot twists and turns in every direction. The characters are full of evil and charm. There is a specific darkness to the retelling of this Snow White tale that allows certain themes to shine so brightly. In a subtle and disorienting manner, a way I could only describe as magical disenchantment, Oyeyemi addresses themes of vanity, gender, parenting, race, and education.

Boy is abused by her terrible father, the rat catcher, who would “accidentally” let pans fall on her or worse, seduce her with food only to later tie her to a chair and let the blind rats chew at her face. Having had enough, Boy runs away, runs to the station, and buys any ticket that is far away enough. She lives in a boarding house but is shunned slightly for not having any skills or talents.

She has a gentleman caller, Charlie, her true love, write to her. But it is Arturo Whitman who ultimately gains her hand in marriage. Whitman has a little girl Snow, whose beauty enchants everyone, even Boy. Boy loves Snow and if only she had let herself, would be the mother she always wanted and never had. Snow loves Boy and welcomes the new baby; in fact, she chooses the name: “Bird for a boy and Bird for a girl.”

Bird is born and immediately Boy gets accused of cheating on her husband. Continue reading “Magical Disenchantment in “Boy, Snow, Bird” by Helen Oyeyemi. Review.”

The Burden and Lightness of Choice in “The Garden of Forking Paths” by Jorge Luis Borges

“The Garden of Forking Paths is a ‘garden’ created by P’engs’ great grandfather, Ts’ui Pen, who renounced a life of science and politics to write a novel and construct a labyrinth. Stephen Albert, the keeper of the Garden, enlightened P’eng (and us): that they were the same task. “Everyone imagined two works; to no one did it occur that the book and the maze were one and the same.” It is a story of infinity.

The Garden of Forking Paths is the life of choice. It is a story that describes the endless possibilities of a single choice; it tells us all the conceivable outcomes. In one regard, it leads to dread and anxiety and in another, it leads to acceptance: this is just the way things are.

Simultaneously, you should feel the burden of choice an the lightness of surrender. The burden is knowing that you will never be able to have another chance to enact an exact sequence. It is the case that:

a) A -> B -> D  and
b) A -> C -> E  and
c) A -> C -> B -> F

Continue reading “The Burden and Lightness of Choice in “The Garden of Forking Paths” by Jorge Luis Borges”

Music and Witness in Baldwin’s “Sonny’s Blues”

It is undeniable that Sonny’s Blues is purposefully ambiguous in its title: it is about music and his sorrows. Sonny’s blues are little brother’s blues. In a way, in our own lives, we always have some “older brother”: someone looming over us telling us what to do or shitting on our dreams as a form of love out of “what’s best for us” (exactly what are you going to do with that “Art” degree?).

Sonny mopes around the house wanting to drop out of school to become a musician. his father isn’t having it, probably for witnessing his own brother’s death. His own brother (sonny’s uncle) was flattened, reduced to wood, “blood, and pulp.” The wood was his guitar. Walking in the moonlight, Sonny’s uncle (a teenager at the time) was run overr by drunk drivers, drunk enough to want to scare him, too drunk to swerve out of the way, white enough to keep driving. Sonny’s father wouldn’t let this happen again, not on his watch.

Oddly enough, the story is told in first person narrative through Sonny’s unnamed older brother (who I shall now refer to as OB). OB is as clueless as he is stable (clueless therefore stable?). He’s so far out of the loop but it’s safe there because in the loop of Harlem, is darkness, Baldwin writes. In the loop there is the cycle, and the cycle affects everyone; the wisest way it was put was through Sonny’s mama: “It aint a question of [Sonny] being a good boy or his having good sense. It ain’t only the badness, not yet the dumb ones that get sucked under.” Why is it that we want maximum punishment for those who have wronged us and that we want minimum punishment (and maximum empathy) for those who we have wronged? Continue reading “Music and Witness in Baldwin’s “Sonny’s Blues””

The Mythology of Sexes: Secrets, Lies, and Doubt in Atwood’s “Happy Endings”

The first three sentences of “Happy Endings”:

“John and Mary meet.
What happens next?
If you want a happy ending, try A”

Readers, I did not read A. This essay is on the secrets, lies, and mythologies between the sexes and on what makes up the “good stuff” of writing.

Happy endings don’t make good stories. If life was a story, I’d want a good story, not a plain one, and a story in which all goes well isn’t any good, and quite short, to be frank. When I finally read “Ending A”, Atwood gathered all sources of happiness together into a basket–love, marriage, sex, great friends, great jobs, vacation, kids with help, retirement, and stimulating hobbies—and it wasn’t enough. It isn’t a story you’d read or a movie you’d watch, so how can that be considered a life worth living?  Continue reading “The Mythology of Sexes: Secrets, Lies, and Doubt in Atwood’s “Happy Endings””

Color as Words, Anderson’s Brand in “Hands”

This essay first sheds light on how Anderson’s background in advertising influenced the climax of “Hands” and secondly, analyzes art’s influence in the shape of the writing. I’ll share how Stein (poetry) and Russman (painting) influenced Anderson, as written in “Words Not Plot Give Form to the Short Story”

Let us acknowledge that Anderson  spent fourteen years of his life as an advertising copywriter. Before we get the chance to start the first sentence, the title commands us to leap into the rabbit hole of associations. What comes to mind when we think of hands? Labor. Craftsmanship. Perhaps something precious, like touching a baby’s head, or carefully performing surgery, or pressing the keys of a piano to create a nocturne.

What of their gestures? To what extent do we realize or attend to the good or evil of our hands? (Lady Macbeth comes to mind). In “Hands”, Wing Biddlebaum is the “angel” and Adolph Myers (Biddlebaum’s previous name) is the “devil”. For Wing, his hands flutter. For Adolph, they touch little boys. For Wing-Adolph, they are horror.

Anderson repeated the word “hands” ad nauseum: the word appears in all paragraphs except three. Anderson uses the word eight times in a single page: HANDS! HANDS! HANDS! HANDS! HANDS! HANDS! HANDS! HANDS! (which left me thinking to myself: WHAT ABOUT THEM, ANDERSON? TELL ME!) If this isn’t advertising strategy, I don’t know what is.  Continue reading “Color as Words, Anderson’s Brand in “Hands””

Dialectics and Radical Acceptance in Achebe’s “Dead Man’s Path” and “Modern Africa as the Crossroads of Culture”

Achebe writes “Dead Man’s Path” to illustrate the folly of foreign intrusion: whether that is the white against black, the new against the old, or rather a clash in cultures. The protagonist, Michael Obi is a young, unimpressive man who has large ideas to beautify and renew the local, traditional school. He held rule over the teachers and buildings; his wife, Nancy, was concerned with her version of authority: she held dominion over the wives of the teachers and the beauty of the place (flowers, fauna, etc.,).

The conflict arises when an elderly Ani village-woman crosses the modernized campus. After denigrating the woman and casting her away, Obi obstructs the path with thick wooden beams and barbed wire to prevent further crossings. The villagers’ priest warns him and tells him to clear the path of the shrine to the burial grounds. Obi laughs and rejects the old man three times, though the priest only spoke twice, and held himself in silence for the third time: “I have no more words to say.” Obi could not let the white Supervisor see such silly rituals upon inspection, and so disregarded the omen.

The next day, Continue reading “Dialectics and Radical Acceptance in Achebe’s “Dead Man’s Path” and “Modern Africa as the Crossroads of Culture””

Sorry to Bother You, White Isn’t Right

I saw this film with my political and “woke” boyfriend who still couldn’t seem to understand what this movie was about. Maybe it wasn’t meant to be understood. Maybe it’s something that defies logic purposefully. My response to his search for meaning: maybe, this movie is about Cassius Green (Lekeith Stanfield) and Detroit (Tessa Thomson) navigating a world not built for them.

Cassius feels as if his life has no meaning and feels inadequate compared to his girlfriend, Detroit: an emerging performance visual artist and sculptor. She sleeps, eats, and breathes political resistance (even down to her fashion: she wears different earrings the size of my palm, sporting different messages like “Murder, Murder, Murder,” and “Kill,Kill,Kill”). She loves Cassius because he’s “real” and has a keen moral compass (which he doesn’t seem to understand)………..at least until he starts working at the tele-marketing company. Continue reading “Sorry to Bother You, White Isn’t Right”

Jonathan, A Complex Question

Cast: Ansel Elgort, Suki Waterhouse, Patricia Clarkson
Director: Bill Oliver
Screenwriters: Peter Nickowitz, Bill Oliver, Gregory Davis
Venue: Tribeca Film Festival (Spotlight Narrative)
100 minutes, Science-Fiction

Jonathon was introduced as a movie that should have no introductions. The only insight to this Tribeca Film Festival feature before watching it, was that it belonged to a science-fiction genre. “Great”, I thought, “I hate sci-fi.” If you’re anything like me, sit tight; it isn’t what you think.  I warmed up to the film when the facilitator announced that like me, he jumped into the movie with two feet blindly, not knowing at all what it was about. “Keep going,” I thought. Though it was technically a science fiction movie, it lived in a common and familiar setting that makes it feel all too real. He was right. It was defyingly relatable and as one who struggles with the duality of mind and passion, it hit unforvingly close to home. Continue reading “Jonathan, A Complex Question”

Lolita

Is a haunting tale that crept into my siesta and grabbed hold of my heart. Playing with the borderline of reality and dreamland, the emotion lingered and tore me slowly, patiently, and gently. I had experienced waking up, both the feeling of fear and sadness.

Frankly, the plot is pointless to follow. Reported speech–liberally drenched in fantasy—makes it difficult for to really understand the gravity of any given event. Some slight details are exaggerated; some great events are offhandedly casual. Perhaps this is an element of beauty, as we entertain the possibility that we are within a deranged mind, in which values are mixed and skewed. Morality takes a different form through the narrator’s account.

The most beautiful part of this story is its writing. I admire any writer that maintains a strong friendship with punctuation and syntax. Nabokov paints with words. His word choice is of the highest grade, if not a bit effusive.

Some kitsch remarks above the novel: its repetition of the color blue and its frequent use of French is eye-roll worthy. I won’t bother with the basely symbolism of colors but without it, we wouldn’t get the full impressions of manic obsession which brings about unapologetic and revealing characterization. Secondly, there is a sufficient amount of French with no translation (in the advent of online translators this is no issue). Comprehension commentary aside, it reminds the reader of a different time where knowledge was self-contained and not as easily accessible and a great deal of detail would have been omitted if one was not able to speak French.

Quotes I particularly enjoyed:

Grey Dog

i finally ended up at grey dog and i was excited to sit outside but decidedly its still too cold for that nonsense. plus inside was a good vibe, i didn’t want to be too away from the people. i went to order at the coffee bar but i was stunned right in my tracks. the barista was plainly handsome in a magnetic way. His eyes and skin were too much like those of Alptug (Alp- like the Swiss Alps, and too, because the g is silent) a student at a university I worked at, in Turkey.

I had that little flashback and i think i must have blushed scarlet, I’m not sure. I stood there mouth agape, laughing nervously in little bursts—a ‘he he’ kind of laughing, nothing crazy. Crazy would have sounded like this: HAHAHA WOW! OH MY GOD! YOU LOOK JUST LIKE THIS GUY! Instead I sounded like this: “Oh my, you look just like someone I know.” I couldn’t help being terribly quiet and could do little more than try to begin a sentence three times. When my awkward could not be further contained, I apologized: “i’m sorry you look just like him” and he smiled, perhaps flattered. I started, “He was”…but I had nothing to say; between emotions and acute aphasia the only words i did manage to say (again) were…. Continue reading “Grey Dog”

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