Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Assignment II Mckay, Hurston, Hughes, J. Johnson, and Wright "Harlem Renaissance"

Assignment Two "Harlem Renaissance"

Claude McKay
In Mckay’s poetry I sensed a strong feeling of displacement from his poem “Outkast”. It is almost as if he wished to return to the “peace” of the “dark jungle” but instead was held captive here in his new home. What held him captive? Knowing of his financial disabilities which he blamed (rightfully perhaps) on his color one could justly argue that this was his reason that he could not return, but I feel it was a number of things that disallowed him to return to his Native roots. In reading a short biography I found he never returned to his homeland since he left it in 1912. I also found that his first novel (arguably) “Banana Plant” was written describing a women who had left her homeland in south Africa in search for higher education and on her return found it hard to hold true to her native roots and the society she grew up in while still holding adhering to the aesthetics of higher education she had learned (I guess the novel portrayed some kind of all encompassing metaphor or great comparison to what the women was going through). Here I feel we can see that McKay struggled with his alliance to his under-developed and uneducated roots and failed to reconcile the two together. Another argument could also be made that he felt it was his duty as a prominent poet to argue against racism and the incredulous idea that whites could front a civil movement that would accurately give the African Americans the equality they wanted if it was formed from (white) “statesmen roaming the world to set things right.” Knowing this you can truly sympathize with exactly how much of an “Outcast” he felt he was. While reading his poems I found that he had mixed emotions in general. In “If we must Die” and “America” the reader receives a portrait of a man who knows the civil struggle that his race is bonded into, but also a man who loves the country perhaps because of the sheer ability it has to change or promise something better in the future. These ideals, one would infer, are exactly opposite to the socialist and communist background that he held. I think we get the clearest picture of how he felt about tour politics and his standing as a major wheel in the civil rights movement from his poems “Look within” and “To the White Friends”. In “To the White Friends” we see a man who has seriously contemplated it seems a more radical “Black Panther” way of achieving civil rights, but is shown (as if by God) that his contributions will be much more helpful if he proves his worthiness perhaps through his prose. In “Look Within” we see a well presented argument of why the country is trying to solve everyone else’s problem when we ourselves have so many to contend with inside our walls. Knowing this I think we can contribute his socialistic and communist theories to instead stand for his way of saying that what we have is obviously not working we need to look in other directions. While I do not agree, and don’t feel either form of government would have been beneficial to the civil rights movement although they are both built on equality. I do understand that it would have been a very popular view for many people of his stature having to live with racism all around them.

Langston Hughes
I found the biggest contradiction between Mckay and writers of his thinking and Hughes was Hughes refusal to refer to his own life instances for inspiration in poetry. He chose instead to portray the black race as a whole in his writing. He also like McKay followed the communist and socialistic movement in America but was forced to renounce some of his affiliations and revise some of his collaborations of poetry during the “McCarthy reign of terror in the United States”. His Poems Like the “Weary Blues” and “Mulatto” Give us invaluable insight into the sufferings of Negros during the time of the Harlem Renaissance. One of my favorites is his short poem called “Justice”. I feel it most accurately describes America’s selective Justice that it stood for. A “Justice” that it fought wars in the name of. A “Justice” seemed to have no eyes instead merely a vehicle for government and politics to achieve what they wanted at the time. I also was more fond of his poem “The Negro speaks Rivers” because he chose to portray racial injustices against Negros from when they started (much earlier than anything that happened on American, although not any less unjust). He portrayed rightfully that Negros had been the back bone of forced labor since the beginning of time. My favorite of all is his poem “Let America be America Again”. I feel that this poem holds one of the strongest messages of any poem I have read today. Although I feel that his socialistic view were imparted in the poem, and that I don’t agree with I feel that it holds a view that everyone person should be aware of at this time in our country of big government. I love his reference throughout the poem to our forefathers and why this land was originally created. This reminds us of something that a lot of people have forgotten today, and should keep foremost in their mind when political decisions are being made.

James Weldon Johnson
Johnson’s poem “O Black and Unknown Bards” gives us a powerful feeling of appreciation for the slaves in the past who as he relates in his poem found some way to look toward heaven even after all that they had and were going through. After I read it a few times I found myself repeating the last line over and over in my head. To me it resounds the triumph through suffering that any individual being done injustice should receive if they are able to with hold such a great spirit through such a time of struggle. It reminded me mostly of the biblical story of Elijah which I feel might have been the point judging by Johnson’s other poems with so many biblical references. I also enjoyed “The Creation” because I felt that it gave us another insight to old slave folk lore. And not in the fictional kind but how they actually saw it from there eyes. His poem “The White Witch” I feel holds a large amount of duality. The white witch can be looked at as the white women who lured black men into sexual relations at the time and when found out caused the black man to be lynched. But it can also be seen as a metaphor for the United states at the time and all of their broken promises to the northern blacks. In this way it would have been mean as a warning to his black brothers from other countries that the juice is not as sweet as it’s acclaimed in America and although there is a front of civil rights and an equality movement there are just as many forces such as the Jim Crow Laws prohibiting true equality from occurring

Richard Wright
I have enjoyed Wrights work since I wrote an essay on his short story “ The Man who was Almost a Man”. His work always seems to me to offer a kind of duality that I love. It can be interpreted on many different levels, which in all is what makes good prose, but Wright seems to me to have mastered the ability to do it while using dialect and common language better than most. I also like that he was of the same opinion as Zora Hurston when it came to the portrayal of African Americans. He believed that his literature should spare no details that would have cause the White man to think less of or confirm their beliefs about the ignorance of African Americans. I feel this was very important because his attitude was one of no compromise he portrayed his race as it was with all the flaws that all races have instead of trying to make it be something that it was not in order to gain respect from a race that had been enslaving African Americans for centuries. I like his “you get what you see” attitude combined with “and it should be more than good enough for you.” In his short story “The Ethics of Living Jim Crow” he portrays the brutality of the truth that if his mother had not tried to teach him that Whites were in a different class, blacks were inferior, and not to attempt to mesh the two races he would have gotten himself killed. This simple truth shows just how the south worked during it’s period of Jim Crow laws. It was still as segregated and prejudiced as before the civil war.

Zora Neal Hurston “Sweat”
Staying true to her ideals Hurston’s story presents us with that African American vernacular that often embodies a good story. Instead of euphemizing the African American Race she tells a totally relatable story to all races. This is something I admire about her. She was unashamed of her race and knew that like every race it had it’s flaws. Perhaps unknowingly she portrayed a story that was totally relatable for many white women of her time thus propelling the civil rights movement through a sympathetic audience. A great story from end to end I especially enjoyed the language used and thought that was the main aspect that propelled the story to greatness while attaching it to it’s roots. It also has a connection to Johnson’s poetry by displaying that same unrelenting faith in God that brought her through all of her struggles. I thought that the purposeful irony between what Syke’s says about Delia’s religion and how she was a hypocrite was very powerful. Especially when we find out towards the end of the story that he still goes to church and takes communion in spite of what he is doing outside of church. The story also holds that “you reap what you sow” message for Mr. Syke which I feel was a popular belief in her time as well as today. You could also read Hurston’s story as speaking out against African American’s who were “enforcing” inferiority and racism through their self-centered acts (not as if to say that white people were committing the same actions as Mr. Syke’s was everyday). The overall message that I took from the story is the same “you reap what you sow” some time or another no matter what color, race, or nationality you have.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Robert Frost

“The Need of Being Versed in Country Things”
“The Road not Taken”

In order to understand Frost’s poetry and what he stood for in the United States it is imperative to at least read an abbreviated biography of his life (There is a great concise one on Frost although a humorous man was deeply troubled throughout his life. While reading his biography I felt as if he was someone who desperately wanted to fit in, to be a normal part of society, but something was continually holding him back. Perhaps it was his deep yearning to characterize the world around him and separate the good from the bad, the things that were supposed to be or made sense from the things that weren’t or didn’t. This is what I feel gave him the classification of a modernist poet. In all of his searching for the lines that separated things he found none in the end. There was no good or evil only a portrait of humanity and he did his best job to depict that. What I enjoy most about Frost’s poetry and what makes him so readable by so many different groups is his duality. You don’t have to be a certain age to gain something from reading his poetry. I remember reading in eighth grade “The Road not Taken” and receiving what I thought was a great understand of it at that time. Now, my grasp and understanding of the picture painted in that poem is totally different. While there are many poets who attribute this characteristic into their poetry in my opinion Frost does it by far the best. In his poem “The Need of Being Versed in Country Things” we also see this same duality or levels of understanding. My understanding of the poem is that it was a story of a house that had burnt to the ground and an overall dreary scene was described until the birds came into the poem suggesting the kind of moral through their unaffected view that life continues on either way and things continue to grow such as the “Lilacs” and the “old elm” in spite of the past fire. Also there was a kind of theme that “life is sad at times, but the sun will rise again tomorrow” you could draw that from the bird’s appearing to weep at the end. On further reading of the poem I found what I feel is a darker meaning. I also fell that the last two lines show that Frost perhaps held a deterministic view of nature. I take the word country he uses at the end to be interchangeable with nature or the natural way of the universe (focusing on nature). I feel that he is trying to discredit the thoughts that people had that nature or its inhabitants cared about human misfortune. The same nature that stirred the fire also bloomed the lilac’s and the old elm. This is the connection I feel he was trying to draw. Nature does not exist for our usage and enjoyment we exist because nature has allowed it.

Wallace Stevens

“A Study of Two Pears” Wallace Stevens
I struggled (as always with Steven’s poetry) to interpret what the poem was actually about. I wouldn’t decide whether he was attempting to show the various ways that you can see a pair; through a painting, scientifically, as a beauty of nature, or just simply as what it is. My knowledge of Stevens brilliance in his other works such as “Thirteen ways of Looking at a Blackbird” (which also proves to be a poem that the more I learn about it the less I think I understand it) or “The Snowman” cause me to think that he is just trying to depict a regular everyday object in a way that we will be able to see it in a new light even better than the first time. I have yet to break the code though on this one even after searching for outside help from the internet. I hope to gain an understanding of what he is really trying to depict in class tonight.
“Thirteen Ways of Looking At A Blackbird” Wallace Stevens
I also have struggled for a while at gaining meaning from this poem . I have a shaky interpretation that the blackbird could represent human intelligence in general. It is alone at the top of the world as we as a race are the most advanced over all the other animals. The three birds signify the relationship between our minds, body, and soul the three tools that we alone are given. The blackbird whirling in the autumn winds signifies our inability to control nature or the world in general even with these gifts. The man women and blackbird are the same because when a man and women are brought together in marriage they are considered one overall the intellect that they have is also the same; blackbird representing intellect (pretty shaky interpretation again). This is where I have some different thoughts on the rest of the poem but none that make it come together. I am hoping again to gain a better understanding in tonight’s class.

"A Rose for Emily" William Faulkner

“A Rose for Emily” William Faulkner
This is a story set in the south and is extremely grotesque throughout. It is filled like Emily herself with death. The story overall can be seen as a symbol for “the old way” and what communities and persons have to go through change. Like most people Emily was in capable of handling change in her life just as when her father died and she tried to keep his corpse in her house still thinking that she could cheat death in some way. Her sheer refusal to change in a world that was changing all around her presented itself in her necrophilia. She decides that it would be better to try to capture the moment when she and Herman were married just the way it was by killing him and designating that upper room to be a shrine for them instead of dealing with the ongoing changes that occur every day in life. This can also be seen in the way that she won’t even let them attach metal numbers or a mailbox to her house. She is totally consumed with the past and fearful of anything new through the story. The new taxes symbolize her way of looking at the future as something that can only bring pain, debt, suffering or most of all death.

"Hills Like White Elephants" Ernest Hemmingway

“Hills Like White Elephants” Ernest Hemmingway
In this story Hemmingway provides us with view of a couple discussing the possibilities of aborting the women’s newly conceived baby. Hemmingway does this through his use of scenery and setting totally never using a word even akin to abortion. Although he never refers to it directly it’s blatantly obvious that is what they are discussing. The train tracks represent the tack of life that they are living and the station represents a decision of which track to follow next. The American man is obviously in favor of aborting the unborn baby and tries to persuade her into the idea throughout the story. He is unwilling to give up their travelers lifestyle symbolized by his luggage bags stamped with all the different hotels that they have stayed at. The woman is more sympathetic to the idea of keeping the baby and Hemmingway gives us insight to what she actually thinking by the landscape around them that she is fixated with. The “Hills Like White Elephants” that she refers to symbolize here will to behold something unique (the White Elephants) like the baby she is carrying. The white also symbolizes the unborn baby’s purity. The grass fields can be seen as a fertile landscape much like her fertility but the cloud over them can represent the abortion casting a shade over her fertility. The dry barren landscape she looks at lastly in the distance symbolizes what she feels like her body would become after the abortion. Hemmingway leaves the story open ended in order to leave up to the reader exactly what the outcome might be. My personal opinion is that the dry barren landscape surrounded the tracks toward Midrid where the “simple operation” would take place. The American man in the end moves his bags to the other side of the track which I think is to symbolize that they have decided to go in another direction than previously was the plan. When he asks her how she feels towards the end and She replies that she is fine I feel that Hemmingway is trying to hint that she is finally solid and happy in her decision to go in the opposite direction from the abortion. This is only a conjecture because as I said Hemmingway purposely leaves the story without enough details to conclude to that the reader will attempt to end it for him almost with their own convictions.

“The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” T.S. Elliot

This poem is about a man who is at the least totally insecure. He fumbles and fidgets around women consumed with the fear of failure and being turned away. What is more interesting is what lies beneath this character or what I feel he stands for. T.S. Eliot like many of the poets in his time period was in a constant struggle to define what had occurred during World War 1 and what that meant for humanity. It could be said that overall humanity as a race was psychologically flawed after witnessing the cruelties that they were capable of towards each other. Mr. Prufrock can easily represent several views that I feel were consistent in the society at this time. The first is the regular soldier that returned from combat. (the important thing to keep in mind is humanity as a whole suffered greatly in many aspects from this war, the soldiers that were lucky enough to return from it were the ones that suffered most directly from it although) The soldier returned to a world that was upside down from where he had left it, totally different from the one he had risked his life to protect, this is not to say that it was not better for most but just totally different. Not only were these soldiers trying to cope with the displacement of returning from hell but they were also trying to adjust to a rapidly changing society around them. One of the biggest changes was women’s ability to earn a living on their own now. The idea of a perfect American house wife with the father as the “bread winner” and the mother as the house wife had been shattered by women having the ability to work while their husbands were away at war. The men at this time were faced with a feeling of displacement, what had always been their position in life was now being challenged totally. Their feelings of distaste for women being able to “bring home the bacon” just like them caused them even more insecurities towards themselves just like the ones that Mr. Prufrock presents, not to mention the ones brought on by the war itself. The image of these empowered educated women are shown in the poem through the recurring couplet about women coming and going “talking of Michelangelo”. No longer did women have to rely on having a husband to have a life. This leaves the men with the responsibility to woo women which some did not handle very well (Mr. Prufrock). You also sense throughout the poem a sense of disparity kind of questioning if it would be all worth it in the end to “disturb the universe.” This would have been a terribly common theme at the time after such a debacle as the first World War. You also see towards the end Mr. Prufrock excepting his terrible fate to always lose in love which he seems to connect directly to losing in life. This could be read as a sort of calling (although I feel it rubs the modernistic theme of only presenting a picture the wrong way) people to stand if able against the powers that would ever call for another catastrophe such as World War 1, instead of cowering out like Mr. Prufrock to his insecurities and fear. Perhaps this is just a euphemism for the end of a poem that was meant to be totally dreary throughout although.

Journey of the Magi T.S. Elliot

Eliot’s poem is a recreation of the three magi’s traveling to see the foretold birth of the Christ. I feel that he writes his poem in a way to introduce an understanding of how the trip took place and what they felt at the manger. There is no room left for doubt in the poem about how miserable the trip was. This coincides biblically with the census that was taking place causing the towns to be crowded and without vacancy. I feel that Eliot portrays the magi’s as feeling confused, unsure, regretful at times, and perhaps even skeptical about their trip and what was to actually happen. He also shows some foreshadowing with the “three trees” in the distance as their trip comes near its destination. This is obviously a reference to the death of Jesus and the three crosses, but at the same time I am unsure o what he meant to portray by foreshadowing that. Perhaps the theme of birth and death in the same picture again. There are a number of ways to interpret the end of the poem. Mine is that the speaker realizes that with Jesus’ birth there has to be an innocent death paid as foretold also. He also sees that Jesus’ birth forces he himself to be reborn in Christ. His rebirth is what he describes as “bitter agony” because he has to let go of his worldly life and be reborn into a new lifestyle. Then he mentions he should “be glad of another death.” Which could be referring to his own so that he may enter heaven, or Christ’s so that he will be forgiven for all of his sins.