Archive for the Literature Category

To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Posted in Christine, Fiction, Literature, Non-Fiction, South on May 23, 2008 by muerta

With all the great new books out there, sometimes it is nice to curl up with a classic.

After reading Gone with the Wind (my ultimate excuse for attempting to get out of Literature 101; “but look, I am reading Gone with the Wind!  I don’t need this course!”), I asked Lisa if I should read the sequel.  I have seldom seen Lisa passionate about a particular issue but reading the sequel to Gone With The Wind received an resounding “No.”  I assumed that Rhett Butler’s People would lack recommendation as well, but I wanted to continue on a Southern theme.  Hence, I gravitated toward Lee’s Mockingbird (having seen the movie at least twice) and enjoyed every word.

There are few books that I truly savor.  Harper Lee deserved to be slowly enjoyed and digested, like a good winter meal on a particularly cold day.  The images that she creates within your mind are majestic and believable.  While the main theme revolves around racism and Atticus’s defense of Tom Robinson, the subtle subplots constantly move the story forward.  You can not help but to love Calpurnia as she watches Jem and Scout, and admire Atticus for taking on his impossible mission– knowing that he is Don Quixote but willing to take that chance.  The reader witnesses racial separatism from a child’s eye, and realizes the ridiculousness of judging an individual because of skin color rather than quality (or “breeding” as Aunt Alexandra would remind us).  And then there is “Dill,” who is without a literary doubt, Truman Capote and Scout’s best friend beside her brother.  I loved the line that Atticus gives us when Dill shows up at their house one summer, “From rape to riot to runaways, I wonder what the next two hours will bring.”

I could talk about how this was a child’s realization of her perceived father vs. her real one, but Harper Lee tells that story so well that it should be left to the women like Miss Maudie to explain that history.  But instead, I shall just leave the story to stand as it is, a semi-autobiographical book which tells of growing up in a small southern town where one small outspoken girl learns the pain of having to walk in the shoes of other people.  Having been there, done that, I can only say that Harper Lee tells an accurate story.

My friend Kathy (another literary nutcase) tells me that the best southern female writers usually only have one good story to tell.  I tend to agree, with a sarcastic nod.  Harper Lee may have only had one good story, but like a good serving of biscuits and gravy, it is well worth the time to enjoy.

Thanks Lisa.  🙂

Literature Virgin Shoots and Scores

Posted in General, Literature, Non-Fiction on May 16, 2008 by muerta

Hi Christine,

Final grade = 101 A


Reservation Blues by Sherman Alexie

Posted in Fiction, Literature, Native American on March 29, 2008 by muerta

I have fallen in love with this author.  While this essay is not edited through all the way, figured I would post it in its crude form, given the entry below it:

Earlier this semester, the class examined the short story “This Is What It Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona” by Sherman Alexie.  This short story introduced the characters Thomas Builds-The-Fire and Victor Joseph as the two travel to Phoenix and pick up the ashes of Victor’s deceased father.  In the process, the two reexamine and rediscover themselves, returning to the reservation with hope but also without hope or a future.  The story suggests a strained relationship between the two and hints of deeper roots.  So, already intrigued by the characters and at the suggestion of a classmate, I chose Option #4 and read “Reservation Blues” by Sherman Alexie.


The story starts with the arrival of a great Blues player seeking a woman who appears in his dreams.  Robert Johnson, who faked his death in 1938, came seeking assistance from his curse; he had made a deal with the Devil and needed redemption.  Thomas Builds-The-Fire finds Robert, assumes he is seeking Big Mom, and delivers him.  However, in the process, inherits the cursed guitar which ends up in the hands of Victor Joseph who unknowingly accepts a Devil’s deal, and with their third friend, Junior Polatkin, form the band, Coyote Springs.  And so begins their story as they seek fame and fortune outside the desolate Spokane Reservation.  Joined by two Flathead Indians, Chess and Checkers, and eventually traveling to New York City for a possible record deal, their adventures go beyond self-exploration but delve deep into the issues of spirituality, abandonment, and the frustration and unfufillment of being Native American, poor, and an outcast historically, tribally, family, and psychically. 


Sherman Alexie brings the beauty of life to us through the eyes of Thomas while he shows us the paths of self-destruction through Victor.  Alexie allows us to see how despite all the negativity that has happened to Thomas, he still tries to love and heal those around him.  Victor becomes the angry warrior without a way of counting coupe, or as Big Mom puts it “when are Indians ever going to have heroes that don’t hurt anyone?”  The author shows us how so many on the reservation live between welfare check to welfare check, choosing a path of religion or alcohol, and merely spend each day in limbo as if time did not exist on the reservation and its only the rest of the world that moves forward. 


In Alexie’s short story, “This is What It Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona,” there is mention of a fight that occurs that between Victor and Thomas when they are younger.  In “Reservation Blues,” we find out that Victor and Junior assault Thomas and literally push his face into setting concrete, leaving a permanent impression of Thomas’s face in the cement outside Trading Post.  Thus, Thomas claims the sidewalk as his, and is often found sitting in this area.  While the short story merely alludes to the conflict, it is surprising to discover the brutality of the fight and yet, Thomas is still willing to help Victor go to Phoenix and later form the band.


Big Mom is symbolically Time for the reservation.  Having seen the Army troops slowly slaughter the horses of the tribe to teaching musical greats such as Benny Goodman and Jimi Hendrix, she represents what was the musical start of the reservation—the screams of the horses while they were shot one at a time by the American Military, the Great White Father, and the government for which the current Spokane People rely upon for their commodities, their welfare checks, and their homes.  While Victor and Junior do not believe in Big Mom, Thomas Builds-The-Fire does, and so when the band eventually travels to visit Big Mom for her guidance (as she is a self-declared music teacher), conflict results within the band regarding her guidance.  But through it all is the possessed guitar in Victor’s hands, and he is given the choice of either fame and fortune or self-destruction.  His choice changes the outcome of everyone for better or worse, but one thing is for certain, Coyote Springs can not remain on the reservation any longer.


In the story, these slaughtered Indian horses scream every time life on reservation is confirmed. 


“Thomas,” said Chess, “if you don’t want to be famous and have your stories heard, then why did you start the band up?”


“I heard voices,” Thomas said.  “I guess I heard voices.  I mean, I’m sort of a liar, enit?  I like the attention.  I want strangers to love me.  I don’t even know why.  But I want all kinds of strangers to love me.”


The Indian horses screamed.


Thomas was not seeking strangers loving him, but merely to be loved and accepted by someone, somewhere.  He was seeking his place in a world where there was no place for him.  The Indian horses screamed because as long as he stayed there, Thomas would never find what he so desperately wanted.  But Thomas did not control the possessed guitar, but rather by Victor.  And his darkest wish remains unknown.  As the symbolism of the horses screaming is not present when this wish becomes evident, it merely emphasizes Alexie’s point of the hopelessness of reservation life.


Throughout the story, there are a number of subplots as each character seeks their own path and destiny, and the reader learns how their pasts lead to their present.  The author brilliantly intertwines each of the characters and their pasts, their dreams, their horrors, and even draws upon the Jungian collective unconscious of Spokane Indian history as each member of the Coyote Springs find themselves facing the destruction of the Spokane freedom and applying it to their own life choices.  The ripples of each subplot add to the story in unexpected ways, and bring the reader deeper into the frustration of the forced life of the reservation, and everyone’s longing for freedom.  


Sherman Alexie does not sugarcoat reservation life nor does he make the Indians these mystical modern day carriers of wisdom and gaeaian spirituality, but rather as humans, with human needs and desires, in world where learned helplessness has been forced upon a previously self-sufficient tribe.  However, the story that he tells is an accurate one of anyone seeking to better there life, despite the unfortunate events that hold one back from reaching outward.  The author adds, however, be careful what you wish for because while it may come true, it comes true at the Devil’s price unless you are willing to be responsible for the dream that you desire.


Literature 110- week 4- assignment 1

Posted in Fiction, Literature, Short Story on February 17, 2008 by muerta

This was a difficult assignment for me, for I have read Tim O’Brien and John Updike in the past. I remember in high school, Mr. Colville- my junior level English instructor, reading the story of “A&P.” Tim O’Brien arrived to me under several titles, but mostly I remember “Tomcat in Love.” My ex-husband recommended it to me, and I found it a most satisfying read.


But O’Brien’s story “The Things that They Carry” settled in my heart. His use of precise wording deep within a jungle setting made me feel the sweat of each load that the soldier’s carried. The rule in Alaska (when I lived there) was that every person should be able to carry on their back half their weight; here in Connecticut, parents complain if students are asked to carry their homework, and backpacks are designed to relieve back and shoulder stresses. My ex-husband carried up to 200 pounds on his back as he rescued unprepared mountain climbers from the high altitude peaks of the Brooks, Alaska, Delta, and Wrangell mountain ranges. Back problems were never the issue.


Tim O’Brien allows us to experience the Vietnam War on several different levels: the psychological, the spiritual, and the physical. These soldiers carrying their backpacks loaded with guns and rations, carrying their support systems of dope or a New Testament, or their minds wandering into places that they would rather be than tromping through the disease-infested, bug-bitten, humid terrain of the jungles of Vietnam. “War is Hell” as the expression goes, but O’Brien ensures us that the reader will not only experience the foxholes and the jokes, but also of death. Everyone reacts to death differently, and we are allowed to experience as these men traipse through the jungle, the thoughts and feelings of each one of them.


In particular, Kiowa was important to the story. He not only represented the division of the spiritual world vs. the physical, but he brought with him several elements of his past that made him the soldier he was for the story. Curdled up with his New Testament yet carrying a hunting hatchet and his moccasins, Kiowa was drafted into a war across an ocean into a country of a people fighting a war similar to his own ancestry. His understated comments of “boom-down” lead to a joke of “zapped while zipping,” only proving that in times of stress, it is humor that helps survival. However, Kiowa was faced with more than just survival. Stuck between the past and the present, and the immediate present, he had to somehow reconcile the death of his comrade into his scheme of the cosmos. “Boom-down” was his solution, while the leader of the troop, Jimmy Cross chose to destroy everything intimate to me and become anesthetized to the pain of losing someone under his command.


Today, we face a war with similar controversy, and yet, as Tim O’Brien writes, I am sure that the soldiers of today carry similar burdens that the soldiers of Vietnam. Loaded with equipment and necessities, there are still ghosts and memories that follow us wherever we travel, and when faced with death, we can either rise up as a zombie like Lee Strunk, or we can give up and burn our past/future like Lt. Jimmy Cross and merely live in the present.


Literature 110- Week 3- Assignment 1

Posted in Fiction, Literature, Short Story on February 14, 2008 by muerta
Everyday Use, by Alice Walker
Girl, by Jamaica Kincaid
I Stand Here Ironing, by Tillie Olsen
Two Kinds, by Amy Tan
There is no second assignment as she is giving us a break for Valentine’s Day.
I am finding the class a tad frustrating because she will assign us readings about themes or settings, and I am supposing that we are supposed to be relating these things all together. Instead, my fellow classmates just post what they like about something or not like, without really delving into the meat of the story. My friend who recommended that I take this course online, said just wait- grades have yet to come out, and he said that I will see a big difference in their postings when they do.
With that, I read Everyday Use by Alice Walker because I have thoroughly read and loved Amy Tan’s writings- and I am so desperately trying to abide by the rule of writing about authors of whom I have never read a critique or review.
All four stories had strong themes of the intricacies of the mother-daughter relationship. Underneath that, each story addressed issues of poverty and the desire for the parent to want better for their child, and yet, each parent carried some element of guilt or poor self-esteem regarding how a particular daughter progressed into womanhood. Also, the authors each took time to compare their daughter to someone else, whether this be another daughter, a talented person, or a fictional concept, there was competitive nature in each story as the daughters matured. This allowed each author to create friction and address the difficulties of sibling rivalry.
“Everyday Use” by Alice Walker not only addressed the subtly of raising two daughter who are opposites, but also the irony of how one daughter denied her background, embraced another, and then returned home to take her heritage as if to show it off as an artifact discovered from archeological field assignment. Dee/Wangero ran away from who and what she was, recreated herself, only to come back to take what she saw as the “priceless” parts, ignoring that priceless can have two meanings: the price of one’s market value and the price of the item’s history.
There was also the issue of Maggie, who lives in the house that her mother rebuilt, and will continue to live the life to which she was born. While the author presents her as the quieter, more insecure child, it becomes apparent that Maggie is the one who is more secure as she has accepted who she is and where she came from, rather than Dee/Wangero who seeks answers outside the fenced yard, only to return with more questions and demands.
Dee/Wangero denies herself access to who she is, until she returns to her traditional grounds seeking her “priceless” heritage. Dee/Wangero suffers from pride, and her sin affects the future of the family heritage. Fortunately, the narrator, the Mother, realizes this, saving the family quilts from becoming an amusing conversation piece decorating her living room and keeps them for Maggie’s eventual marriage.
We are only who we are. We can soul search the world in the hopes of finding the answers (Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert), the answer always brings one back full circle—to your self. And while sadly Dee/Wangero will most likely continue searching for herself in those priceless artifacts, the reader can be rest assured that when Maggie marries, those quilts will continue to warm her and her family as they had one generation before.

Literature 110- Week 2- Assignment 2

Posted in Fiction, Literature, Short Story on February 4, 2008 by muerta

Read “Tell-Tale Heart” and “The Cask of Amontillado” by Edgar Allen Poe, as well as Chinua Achebe’s “Dead Man’sPath,” and”Love and Other Catastrophes:  A Mixed Tape by Amanda Holzer.  I chose Dead Man’s Path because the deal of the class is that we are not to consult other opinions regarding authors before writing our own opinions and I have read and analyzed much of what Poe has written throughout my years.  Also, I have an assignment to post a mixed tape for extra credit.  I will call mine “Dead Man’s Path.”  🙂


Ah, the power of education to remove superstition.  How many of us:

Throw salt over our shoulder if we knock over the shaker?

Never open an umbrella in the house?

Believe that the reason the Red Sox never won for so long was because of the “Curse of the Babe?”

Michael Obi arrives somewhere in what I assume is Africa (since the name of the school is Ndume Central School) with the thought “. . . of what a grand opportunity we’ve got at last to show these people how a school should be run.”  Instead, what he quickly discovers is that tradition and progress clash, as the visitors to the village shrine quietly pass through school grounds in order to continue their faith.  This is a disruption to his grand theme of making this backward school a proven success, and despite the protest of the village priest, Obi blocks the path to the shrine.  He scoffs at the priest, and makes light of the priest’s beliefs by suggesting that “Dead men do not require footpaths.”

Although it appears that children do, for after the path is blocked, a young woman dies in childbirth because her child can not walk the path in order to be born.  Hence, the village takes matters into their own hands, and deconstruct the beauty and rationality that the Obis have created, allowing the path of life and death to continue unobstructed.  Despite his efforts to make his school the grandest example, it ends up being a noted disaster as the Supervisor arrives right after the villagers avenged the wrong.

Michael Obi arrived with an egotistical idea of how education would give proper life to the native children, and relieve them of the burdens of their religion and traditions.  However, as Frank Leahy once said, “Egotism is the anesthetic that dulls the pain of stupidity.”  Obi, accompanied by his wife and his ego, quickly discovered that progressive ideas can only be progressive if the dead men are allowed their proper footpaths.

Literature 110- Week 2- Assignment 1

Posted in Fiction, Literature, Short Story on February 2, 2008 by muerta

Read:  Kate Chopin’s “The Story of an Hour” and “The Storm.”  Read  Charolette Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper.”


Nothing is worse than feeling trapped.

Both Chopin and Gilman address this issue; Chopin examining sexual repression while Gilman challenging the mental.  However, it is my love of psychology and feminism that attracts me to Gilman’s story of “The Yellow Wallpaper,” and how one copes in a collapsing world.

When an individual is depressed, it is difficult for them to step outside of themselves and interact with the world beyond their internal turmoil.  Add to that, an era of when women were considered unequal and fragile, taming one’s inner conflicts ends in torment and quite literally, breaks both the mind and the spirit.  Forced to a bedridden state as it is considered healing, one is only left with their isolation and thoughts, only to further the depressive state and focus on one’s inadequacies.

Gilman never gives us the name of our narrator, thus placing reader into the narrator as she sits ever so quietly writing in her journal.  It is an exhaustive task, and one that her husband John “hates to have her write a word.”  Whether this is because it is exhausting or because he feels it negatively influences her recovery or because he often shushes her thoughts and feelings as flighty, we can only assume that the journal is the only way she has to truly express herself.

            “I did write for a while in spite of them; but it does exhaust me a good deal—having to be so sly about it, or else meet with heavy opposition.”

And yet, writing is the only way that she can express herself without the judgment of others while she sits in her room and “recovers.”

So much of the journal is focused upon the yellowed wall paper, the paper that the children destroyed, and yet, slowly destroys our narrator.  Trapped on an unmovable bed, at first she hates the wallpaper, then notices becomes intrigued by its intricacies, and lastly discovers that it is the cage.  It becomes her job in freeing those trapped by it, and in the tearing down of the walls (so to speak), she becomes free but only to lose herself in the very end.  Completing her cage by locking the room, she completes her task.

Our narrator started the story standing tall.  In the end, she is creeping, crawling around on all fours over the body of her fainted husband but she has metaphorically freed the trapped individuals, her self included, while proclaiming her freedom over her husband’s body.  All this treatment of tonics and bed rest because she was not the practical individual like her husband but rather emotional and reactive to her environment.  And sadly, it is the treatment that eventually ruins her.