April 20, 2010

The story, “Sexy” by Jumpa Lahiri, is set in Boston.  A woman named Miranda is seeing a married Indian man named Dev.  She works with and Indian woman named Laxmi, whose cousin’s husband has left her for another woman.  When Miranda first meets Dev, his wife is out of the country and they spent a lot of time together.  Miranda is from Michigan and has never dated anyone so worldly, who pays for everything and kisses her hand in restaurants.  She is enchanted with him. He is the first man to tell her she is sexy.  Her coworker’s cousin’s plight does not bother her much at the beginning.  When Dev’s wife comes back, he can only see her on Sunday and he does not take her places anymore.   She still likes him until Laxmi’s cousin comes to visit and Miranda watches her young son while they go to a spa.  The boy tells her that sexy means “loving someone you don’t know”.  When she realizes that Dev is going to use her as long as she lets him, she slowly cuts off the relationship.

                I think many people who have not been there do not realize how easy it is to rationalize something like this.  Most mistresses talk themselves (or are talked by the man) into thinking that the man is only with his wife because of the children, or her mental health, or for his parents, or even that he is about to leave her.  I do not think that Miranda is a bad person, but I do think Dev is.  That is a little hypocritical, I know, but I am a woman.  I identify with Miranda.  I’ve been fooled by men; I’ve done things I knew were bad for me just because I wanted to.  I can understand the draw of an exotic man who says you’re sexy, that’s a heady thing for a Michigan girl, to feel chosen that way.  I think the writer draws a very interesting parallel with Laxmi and her cousin.  Like Miranda knows exactly what she is doing, but she does it still, buying “things a mistress should have”.  She’s playing a role, and it’s sexy to her.  I think it hits her hard when he does not notice the things she buys just for him.  It takes her meeting the son of a man who has left his family to put it in her face, so she cannot deny the wrongness anymore.  She likes Rohin, and she feels sorry for him, but guilty too.  I think in the end that’s what pushes her to end things with Dev.  I wonder if she ever would have done it had she not been roped into watching the little boy.


True Love Poems

April 20, 2010


When we were told we were going to be reading love poems in class, I was not interested.  I am not a romantic person, and I do not usually enjoy reading love poems.  The words “love poem” make my eyes roll on their own.  Then we read “True Love” by Judith Viorst, and I realized I had just been reading the wrong poems. 

                This poem speaks to me because it is a little crazy.  I’m a little crazy too.  Specifically the line, “when he is late for dinner and I know he must be either having an affair or dead in the middle of the street, I always hope he’s dead”  This is sad, but I think a lot of women have thoughts like that.  Not that we want our significant other to die, but that is better that even thinking of the pain of him being with another woman.  On the other hand, the embarrassment of being fooled is the worst part perhaps.  To me this poem is about real, long term, grown up, daily, un-romantic love.  This is an un-romance poem.  Perfect for me… I also love the line, “if his mother was drowning and I was drowning and he had to choose one of us to save, He says he’d save me”, although I would imagine he would tell his mother just the opposite.  I like the thought of a man who tries to talk me out of doing something that will hurt me, but doesn’t rub it in my face when I ignore him and get hurt anyway.  I also like the thought of a man who can hate me for something but still love me at the same time.

The other poems we read in class made me feel like Goldilocks in the Three Bears’ house.  Snyder’s metaphor-fest was too personal for me; I’m a very private person.  My insecurities would make me read into the “mountains” (what is he trying to say, I’m fat?) and the “soft cinder cones and craters”, I don’t even want to know what part of her body is a “crater” that word has a negative connotation for me.  The “Ceiling” poem was a little too underwhelming for me.  If there’s one time I want a little romance and pageantry, it’s when a guy tells me he wants to spend the rest of his life with me.  (Maybe I am just a little romantic…) Finally, “Oranges” would have to be my second favorite of the day; I’m a sucker for puppy love.  In high school, if a guy so much as made eye contact in the hall, I was making wedding plans the next day.  I tend to go a little overboard, but I did already say I was crazy…

Langston Hughes

April 20, 2010


                In “The Negro Speaks of Rivers”, Langston Hughes discusses the geographical history of his race, and uses rivers to describe the places of origination.  He says, “my soul has grown deep like the rivers” because when you live in a place for a long time, it becomes a part of you, and a part of your heritage to your children.  This is why people kill and die for a small piece of land, because they cannot bear to think of being torn from it.  This is one of the reasons that uprooting an entire race and transplanting them roughly into another country can destroy them even if you don’t beat and enslave them afterwards.  In this short poem, Hughes roughly outlines the history of African Americans (looked at as a large group, not an individual as the poem speaks), and their movement around the earth.  One thing, then, that they have wherever they are planted, is the river to lull them to sleep, bathe in, to know.

                In “Theme for English B”, Hughes explores something well known to every college student in a very personal way.  I’m sure his instructor was shocked by the assignment he received,

                But it will be a part of you, instructor.

                You are white-

                yet a part of me, as I am a part of you.

                That’s American.

                Sometimes perhaps you don’t want to be a part of me.

                Nor do I often want to be a part of you.

I would imagine he was shocked, I hope he gave a good grade.  He probably didn’t, he might have wanted to throw Hughes out of his class for his brazenness.  Imagine the dean’s office, embarrassed instructor, waving the poem around with a red sweating face.  It makes me smile.  This poem, like many of Hughes’ poems, describes what is going on in his head in beautiful detail.  His outline of the way he takes to class even show some of his determination to succeed despite the fact that he is “the only colored student” in his class.  It explains the way he feels the need to demonstrate his connectedness to Harlem, “Harlem, I hear you”.  I imagine he is conflicted between the way he feels and what others expect of him, as a young black man.  “I guess being colored doesn’t make me not like the same things other folks like who are other races”

                His writing style is different from William Carlos Williams in a few respects.  First, in my opinion, Hughes is the more gifted writer.  I think he explains more clearly what he is thinking, while Williams’ writing is left to the reader to determine what he might have meant.  Williams uses a lot of symbolism, and his poems are shorter over all.  Hughes is very self-descriptive, and narrative.  Williams is more about metaphors and imagery.   They are both obviously considered great writers, (or they wouldn’t be in our anthologies), but I would have to choose Hughes as my favorite.

William Carlos Williams

April 20, 2010

In his poem, “Landscape with the Fall of Icarus”, William Carlos Williams was making a simple observation about life.  Even if something catastrophic is happining to you, chances are others are going about their day. Line 18, “a splash quite unnoticed” shows that if it doesn’t happen on top of them, people are not likely to notice it.  I think this is true.  However, just because someone does not notice something right away does not mean they do not care about it at all.  The farmer in the painting may have been very unhappy when he found out that Icarus had drowned, we only see what is happening in the moment of the painting.  It is a snapshot of a second in time, it does not tell the whole story.  I think Williams’ view may be a bit bleak, but his poem does not say that no one ever mourned Icarus, only that they did not notice the moment of his passing.  The lines, “the whole pagentry of the year was awake tingling near” shows that things end even in spring, the time of beginnings and new life.

Dickinson vs. Whitman

April 20, 2010


When you think about great American poets, chances are Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman are on your short list.  These two writers are very different stylistically and personally.

Emily Dickinson-Concise, Compact, Idiosyncratic, Radically Private.

Emily Dickinson was a notorious introvert.  Her poems are numbered instead of named, as if she never planned on showing them to others at all.  She makes every word count in her short lines and stanzas. Dickinson says a lot in a few meaningful words. She was a bit quirky, although I think idiosyncratic is not the right word for it. In “Poem 449” she talks about someone who died “for Beauty” who finds a kindred soul in their tomb-mate, a person who died “for Truth”.  They speak between tombs until the moss covers their lips and names.  That is a little more than quirky perhaps…

Walt Whitman- Gregarious, Expansive, Open-Form, Self-Celebratory.

Walt Whitman was an outgoing person who wrote often of being in the company of others and enjoying it.  In his poem “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry”, Whitman describes feeling one with the inhabitants of the city:

                Whatever it is, it avails not—distance avails not, and place avails not,

                I too lived, Brooklyn of ample hills was mine,

                I too walk’d the streets of Manhattan island, and bathed in the waters

                                around it,

                I too felt the curious abrupt questionings stir within me,

                In the day among crowds of people sometimes they came upon me,

                In my walks home late at night or as I lay in my bed they came upon me,

Whitman was a very descriptive writer whose lines were long, and his poems longer, (even my quote was long).   He got to his point eventually, through verbose lines of poetry filled with repetitions and refrains.

Whitman and Dickinson were almost polar opposites.  While Whitman focused on nature and broad social scenes, Dickinson’s poems echoed her life, closed indoors, inside her own mind.  In “Poem 280”, Dickinson actually speaks of “a funeral, in [her] brain”.  Whitman’s lines were long, Dickinson’s very short.  Her “Poem 185” is only sixteen words long.  Whitman’s were more likely to be sixteen pages.  Whitman was also seemingly not too shy about his talents.  In “Song of Myself” (a title which hints at his pride in himself), he calls himself, “a kosmos, of Manhattan the son,” and says, “I speak the pass-word primeval, I give the sign of democracy, By God!”

Although their styles and poems are as different as a bright spring day in the park and a dark evening alone in your room, both are recognized as standards in American Poetry.

Theme Exam Essays

April 18, 2010

Theme One:  Race and Racial Diversity

            One of the most controversial and divisive aspects of American history has been race and racial diversity.  From the time of the first Europeans taking land from the Native Americans to the recent targeting of Muslim Americans and the “immigration” crisis (both in the beginning of the nation and recently), perceived differences in race have torn this country apart.  This is the most important reason to include literature by a diversity of authors in Literature classes, because often understanding is bred by knowledge of other cultures.  Unfortunately, for many minority authors, if a great work is written by an African American, it immediately becomes a great “Black” story, as opposed to just a great story.  Minority authors are called upon to be a spokesperson for their whole culture.  Some may try to buck the system, while others try to prove themselves to everyone.  Other times, the dominant culture tries to force assimilation, stripping the minority culture’s identity in the process.

            In “The Souls of Black Folks”, W.E.B. Dubois gives non-minorities a glimpse into the head of a turn of the century Black American.  He tries to make one understand what it feels like to “be a problem” since childhood.  He speaks about the double consciousness African Americans have, how they must always think of themselves not just as humans, but as “black humans” as well, because people who look at them will always see their color first.  This person wants to be simply an American, without being “cursed and spit upon by his fellows”.  He would like to be “a coworker in the kingdom of culture”.

            Another side of the racial issue is exposed in “How to Tame a Wild Tongue”.  The author talks about how her native language is considered by other Latinos “a mutilation of Spanish”.  She has internalized not only these criticisms, but criticisms by English speakers as well, to the point that she sees it as a deficiency in herself.  When people force a culture to use the dominant language, they cause further bastardization of the language, by making it something that is spoken only in pieces, mixed with English or whispered on the playground to avoid a “rap on the knuckles with a sharp ruler”.

            The importance of reading about other cultures cannot be explained to people who do not understand other cultures.  They are content to keep on believing the stereotypes.  Putting yourself in another person’s shoes through their literature is one effective way of stopping problems like the need to assimilate or seeing someone’s color as a personality trait.  Hopefully we can use these pieces of literature to understand each other better.

Postmodernism: Theme Two

            If you ask someone what is a “great literary work”, chances are they will name some old novel or play that they have not even read, because they have been told that it is great.  Postmodernists try to question ideas of what is “good” or “beautiful”.  They also question who should decide which literature becomes anthologized.  Some works that may seem “shocking” or “controversial” now could be considered great by future generations.

            In “Do Not Go Gentle”, a man recounts the most devastating thing most people will ever go through, the serious illness of a child.  I think this is great literature, because it is human emotion at its most raw.  When your child is sick, you will try to make anything work, even waving a magic dildo over his hospital bed. 

            In “Wishes for Sons”, the shock value is high, with Clifton discussing things most men do not like to hear about.  This can be very empowering for women, however, because these are issues they have to consider in their planning of each day.  Just because something shocks you does not mean it will not speak to someone else directly.

            You can imagine that when some of the old literary masters wrote their great works, they were not immediately accepted as genius.  It takes time for people to become accustomed to these sometimes-radical ideas being accepted as literature.  If you let one aspect of a story, like a giant sex toy named “chocolate thunder” or the mention of blood clots keep you from seeing the point of the work, you could miss out on some great literature.