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Apr 9, 2021 - AP Literature    Comments Off on Up on the Porch: The Center of Town Life

Up on the Porch: The Center of Town Life

porch

Their Eyes Were Watching God begins with Janie’s return to Eatonville, told primarily through the onlookers gathered on the porch in front of Joe Starks’s store: “It was the time for sitting on porches beside the road. It was the time to hear things and talk. These sitters had been tongueless, earless, eyeless conveniences all day long. Mules and other brutes had occupied their skins. But now, the sun and the bossman were gone, so the skins felt powerful and human. They became lords of sounds and lesser things. They passed nations through their mouths. They sat in judgment.”

Throughout the Eatonville section of the novel, the porch serves as the center of town life. It’s the place to go for a game of checkers or a cold drink on a hot day, the one place you want to be to hear the news, swap stories, “play the dozens,” and gossip. “When the people sat around on the porch and passed around the pictures of their thoughts for the others to look at and see, it was nice.” (Chapter 6)

Janie realizes the importance of the porch as a way to integrate fully into the life of the town. Jody’s determination to keep her in the store reinforces his belief of her as something better than the rest of the townswomen, the “bell cow” whose prominence complements his own.

Porches serve as a touchstone in much of Hurston’s work, like her story “Sweat” and her novel Seraph on the Suwanee. In her autobiography Dust Tracks on A Road, Hurston recounted her early experiences in Eatonville:

“I know that Joe Clarke’s store was the heart and spring of the town. Men sat around the store on boxes and benches and passed this world and the next one through their mouths. The right and the wrong, the who, when and why was passed on, and nobody doubted the conclusions…For me, the store porch was the most interesting place that I could think of. I was not allowed to sit around there, naturally. But, I could and did drag my feet going in and out whenever I was sent there…But what I really loved to hear was the menfollks holding a “lying” session. That is, straining against each other in telling folktales. God, Devil, Brer Rabbit, Brer Fox, Sis Cat, Brer Bear, Lion, Tiger, Buzzard, and all the wood folk walked and talked like natural men.”

As a cultural anthropologist, Hurston certainly knew the connections between the stories and folktales she heard on those porches and those of West Africa. Trickster tales of Anansi the Spider migrated across the Middle Passage and found new homes in the American South, Anansi becoming the fabled trickster Brer Rabbit (and his Brooklyn-accented descendant, Bugs Bunny) and the porch taking the place of the talking stool reserved for the tribal chief.

The Act I Setting of Mule Bone, written in 1930 by Langston Hughes and Hurston from her story “A Bone of Contention,” describes how the porch should look.

SETTING: The raised porch of JOE CLARKE’s Store and the street in front. Porch stretches almost completely across the stage, with a plank bench at either end. At the center of the porch three steps leading from street. Rear of porch, center, door to store. On either side are single windows on which signs, at left, “POST OFFICE,” and at right, “GENERAL STORE” are painted. Soap boxes, axe handles, small kegs, etc., on porch on which townspeople sit and lounge during action. Above the roof of the porch the “false front,” or imitation second story of the shop, is seen with large sign painted across it “JOE CLARKE’S GENERAL STORE.” Large kerosene street lamp on post at right in front of the porch.

Saturday afternoon and the villagers are gathered around the store. Several men sitting on boxes at edge of porch chewing sugar cane, spitting tobacco juice, arguing, some whittling, others eating peanuts. During the act the women all dressed up in starched dresses parade in and out of store. People buying groceries, kids playing in the street, etc. General noise of conversation, laughter and children shouting. But when the curtain rises there is a momentary lull for cane-chewing. At left of porch four men are playing cards on a soap box, and seated on the edge of the porch at extreme right two children are engaged in a checker game, with the board on the floor between them.

mule boneMule Bone was based on an African-American folktale. The play was intended to be the first of what Hurston hoped would be a truly “black vernacular” theater; however, a falling out between the authors prevented the play from ever being produced in their lifetimes. A production of Mule Bone finally made its debut in 1991. The fascinating story behind the conflict may be found here.

Apr 2, 2021 - AP Literature    Comments Off on Hurston’s Use of Dialect

Hurston’s Use of Dialect

zora2In addition to being a fine writer of fiction, Zora Neale Hurston was a folklorist and cultural anthropologist. About her writing, Hurston once said, “I tried…not to pander to the folks who expect a clown and a villain in every Negro. Neither did I want to pander to those “race” people among us who see nothing but perfection in all of us.” In a letter to her friend and fellow writer Fannie Hurst, Hurston wrote, “I know I cannot straighten out with a few pen-strokes what God and men took centuries to mess up. So I tried to deal with life as we actually live it–not as the sociologists imagine it.”

Hurston’s efforts were not universally appreciated by other members of the Harlem Renaissance, most notably Richard Wright. In a 1937 review for New Masses, Wright chided Hurston for not focusing on “motive fiction” or “social document fiction” and had particularly stinging things to say about her use of dialect in Their Eyes Were Watching God:

Her dialogue manages to catch the psychological movements of the Negro folk-mind in their pure simplicity, but that’s as far as it goes.

Miss Hurston voluntarily continues in her novel the tradition which was forced upon the Negro in the theatre, that is, the minstrel technique that makes the “white folks” laugh. Her characters eat and laugh and cry and work and kill; they swing like a pendulum eternally in that safe and narrow orbit in which America likes to see the Negro live: between laughter and tears.

Like Mark Twain before her, Hurston was exacting in her reproduction of speech patterns, both writers valuing authenticity over the preferences of the time. The following is a passage from “Characteristics of Negro Expression,” written by Hurston and published in Negro, 1934.

If we are to believe the majority of writers of Negro dialect and the burnt-cork artists, Negro speech is a weird thing, full of “ams” and “Ises.” Fortunately, we don’t have to believe them. We may go directly to the Negro and let him speak for himself.

I know that I run the risk of being damned as an infidel for declaring that nowhere can be found the Negro who asks “am it?” nor yet his brother who announces “Ise uh gwinter.” He exists only for a certain type of writers and performers.

Very few Negroes, educated or not, use a clear clipped “I.” It verges more or less upon “Ah.” I think the lip form is responsible for this to a great extent. By experiment the reader will find that a sharp “i” is very much easier with a thin taut lip than with a full soft lip. Like tightening violin strings.

If one listens closely one will not too that a word is slurred in one position in the sentence but clearly pronounced in another. This is particularly true of the pronouns. A pronoun as a subject is likely to be clearly enunciated, but slurred as an object. For example: “You better not let me ketch yuh.”

There is a tendency in some localities to add the “h” to “it” and pronounce it “hit.” Probably a vestige of Old English. In some localities “if” is “ef.”

In story telling “so” is universally the connective. It is used even as an introductory word, at the very beginning of the story. In religious expression “and” is used. The trend in stories is to state conclusions; in religion, to enumerate.

I am mentioning only the most general rules in dialect because there are so many quirks that belong only to certain localities that nothing less than a volume would be adequate.

Additional material from the National Endowment for the Arts’ “The Big Read” Reader’ Guide to Their Eyes Were Watching God

Feb 12, 2021 - AP Literature, Honors IV    Comments Off on Mr. Bean Does Shakespeare

Mr. Bean Does Shakespeare

In this sketch, comedian Rowan Atkinson (better known as Mr. Bean or the voice of Zazu, the majordomo bird in The Lion King) explains Elizabethan theater, including the roles of king and messenger and the importance of having a poison checker. Enjoy!

Nov 16, 2020 - AP Literature    Comments Off on Lord of the Flies Analysis

Lord of the Flies Analysis

Lord2

“Like any orthodox moralist Golding insists that Man is
fallen creature, but he refuses to hypostatize Evil or
to 
locate it in a dimension of its own.
On the contrary 
Beelzebub, Lord of the Flies,
is Roger and Jack and you and I,
ready to declare himself as soon as we permit him to.”
—from “The Fables of William Golding” by John Peter, 1957

piggy“Lord of the Flies is a very serious book which has to be introduced seriously. The danger of such an introduction is that it may suggest that the book is stodgy. It is not. It is written with taste and liveliness, the talk is natural, the descriptions of scenery enchanting. It is certainly not a comforting book. But it may help a few grownups to be less complacent and more compassionate, to support Ralph, to respect Piggy, control Jack, and lighten a little the darkness of man’s heart. At the present moment (if I may speak personally), it is respect for Piggythat seems needed most. I do not find it in our leaders.”

—E. M. Forster, introduction to Howard-McCann edition of
Lord of the Flies, 1962

lordflies“The South-Sea island setting suggests everyone’s fantasy of lotus-eating escape or refuge from troubles and care. But for Golding this is the sheerest fantasy: there is no escape from the agony of being human, no possibility of erecting utopian political systems where all will go well. Man’s inescapable depravity makes sure “it’s no-go” on Golding’s island just as it does on the various islands visited by Gulliver in Swift’s excoriating examination of the realities of the human condition.”

—from The Novels of William Golding by S. J. Boyd, 1988

 

Golding himself had this to say about Lord of the Flies in his essay collection A Moving Target (1985):

More than a quarter of a century ago I sat on one side of the fireplace and my wife on the other. We had just put the children to bed after reading to the elder some adventure story or another—Coral Island, Treasure Island, Pirate Island, Magic Island. God knows what island. Islands have always and for good reason bulked large in the British consciousness. But I was tired of these islands with their paper-cutout goodies and baddies and everything for the best in the best of all possible worlds. I said to my wife, “Wouldn’t it be a good idea if I wrote a story about boys on an island and let them behave the way they really would?” She replied at once, “That’s a first class idea. You write it.” So I sat down and wrote it.

golding2A story about boys, about people who behave as they really would! What sheer hubris! What an assumption of the divine right of authors! How people really behave—whole chapters in that row of books behind my chair do little in the last analysis but agree to or dissent from that first casual remark. How then did I choose a theme? Even then, did I know what I was about? It had taken me more than half a lifetime, two world wars and many years among children before I could make that casual remark because to me the job was so plainly possible.

Yet there is something more. In a way the book was to be and did become a distillation from that life. Before the Second World War my generation did on the whole have a liberal and naïve belief in the perfectibility of man. In the war we became if not physically hardened at least morally and inevitably coarsened. After it we saw, little by little, what man could do to man, what the Animal could to do his own species. The years of my life that went into the book were not years of thinking but years of feeling, years of wordless brooding that brought me not so much to an opinion as a stance. It was like lamenting the lost childhood of the world. The theme defeats structuralism for it is an emotion.

The theme of Lord of the Flies is
grief, sheer grief, grief, grief, grief.


Nov 6, 2020 - AP Literature    Comments Off on Survival and The Coral Island

Survival and The Coral Island

Survival stories have been a popular mainstay of literature stemming back to the oral tradition. The British and American branches of literature are full of them. Daniel Defoe’s 1719 tale Robinson Crusoe exemplifies many of the hallmarks of these tales we find familiar: a stranded hero, a deserted island, meetings and clashes with various native cultures, and eventual rescue, where the hero returns home a changed man for his experience. The book’s popularity spawned an entire subgenre of literature called Robinsonade, all of which contain a stranded hero, a new beginning, encounters with natives, and commentary on society. These influences can be seen in Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels (1726), a particularly biting piece of satire that uses the castaway motif to savage various aspects of English society, and the modern film Cast Away (2000), in which Tom Hanks plays a stranded Federal Express executive who survives alone on an island in the South Pacific for four years with the help of the contents of FedEx packages that washed up on the island with him, including a personified volleyball named Wilson.

In the Victorian era, one book of Robinsonade rose above all others in popularity, The Coral Island, published in 1858 by the Scottish author R. M. Ballantyne. The Amazon summary for this book reads, “When the three sailor lads, Ralph, Jack and Peterkin are cast ashore after the storm, their first task is to find out whether the island is inhabited. Their next task is to find a way of staying alive. They go hunting and learn to fish, explore underwater caves and build boats – but then their island paradise is rudely disturbed by the arrival of pirates.” 

Clearly, Golding is in familiar territory, which is unsurprising. The Coral Island, one of the first adventure books written for boys and employing a boy as the central character, became wildly popular in Great Britain. The Coral Island has been required reading for British schoolchildren since the Victorian era (Golding will most certainly have read it in school), and the characters of Lord of the Flies reference it in Chapter 3 when Jack, Ralph, and Simon return from their fact-finding mission and confirm they have all been stranded.

Part of The Coral Island‘s popularity was its clear messages about morality and choices. Ralph, Jack, and Peterkin of the story are tested by their isolation, their encounters with pirates, and their interactions with the cannibalistic inhabitants of nearby islands. Through a series of adventures, the boys’ friendship and loyalty are tested and proved, and at the end the three friends, older and wiser, sail back to England together. Ballantyne included them in a sequel, The Gorilla Hunters, in 1861.

Victorian audiences ate it up. In a time when virtue was valued above all else, the purifying adventures of the novel revealed English boyhood at its very best, a trait embodied in Jack’s confident assertion in Lord of the Flies that their group would survive triumphant simply because they were English and therefore the best at everything. However, the book also contains the Victorian fault of viewing its English central characters as superior in breeding and morality to the “savage” native inhabitants of the region, who are dismissed as evil or praised as good based on whether those people have submitted to English values or have adopted Christianity. Golding, as you will see, explores these moral ideas with his characters in quite a different way.

A clear and rather extensive analysis of the literary influences and history of The Coral Island may be found at its Wikipedia entry. And since Golding clearly borrowed many elements of The Coral Island for Lord of the Flies, perhaps that helps us get close to solving one of the little, yet provocative, mysteries of the book: What is Piggy’s real name? (Hint: Who are the three main characters in The Coral Island?)

 

 

 

Nov 2, 2020 - AP Literature    Comments Off on William Golding Intro

William Golding Intro

The British novelist William Gerald Golding was born in St. Columb Minor, a village in Cornwall, on September 19, 1911. Golding greatly admired his father, Alec Golding, a distinguished school master who “inhabited a world of sanity and logic and fascination.” His mother, Mildred Golding, was active in the suffragette movement.

Golding entered Oxford University, and to please his parents, he began to study science. After two years, however, he switched to English. He graduated in 1935 with a B.A. degree and diploma in education.

Golding moved to London, where he became a social worker. During this time, he began writing, acting, and producing for a small London theater, bu eventually deferred to family tradition and became a teacher. When World War II began in 1939, he was teaching at Bishop Wordsworth’s school, a boys’ school in Salisbury, Wiltshire.

In 1940, Golding joined the Royal Navy and served on a cruiser. Eventually he became a lieutenant, ending his career in command of a rocket launching craft. During his naval career, Golding saw action against battleships, submarines, and aircraft. He was present at the sinking of the Bismarck and took his rocket-launching craft to Normandy for the D-Day invasion.

golding1In 1945, Golding resumed his teaching post at Bishop Wordsworth’s School and began writing again. Some of his reviews and essays were published, but he found no publisher for the novels he had written. In spite of this, Golding persisted. He concluded that since he would probably never be published, he would simply write for his own satisfaction. One night after reading a bedtime story to his children, he spoke with his wife about his true desire, to write a book about what people are really like. Boys’ adventure books such as Coral Island and Treasure Island weren’t believable, and he wanted to trace the darkness that he witnessed as being part of every human being. The result was Lord of the Flies, published in 1954 when Golding was 43. Lord of the Flies sold well when first published;however, it sold fewer than 3,000 copies in the United States and soon went out of print. Later, the novel found and retained an influential audience and eventually became a favorite of college students, rivaled only by J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye. Later Golding published The Inheritors (1955), Pincher Martin (1956), and Free Fall (1959).

In 1961, largely due to the success of Lord of the Flies, Golding was able to leave his teaching post at Bishop Wordsworth’s School to become writer-in-residence at Hollins College in Virginia. Thereafter, he became a full-time writer. His later novels include The Spire, The Pyramid, The Scorpion God, Darkness Visible, Rites of Passage, The Paper Men, and Fire Down Below, published four years before his death at 81 years old.

goldingnobel

In 1983, Golding received the Nobel Prize for Literature. Of his works in general, he was quoted as saying,

In all books I have suggested a shape in the universe that may, as it were, account for things. The greatest pleasure is…just understanding. And if you can get people to understand their own humanity–well, that’s the job of the writer.

His Nobel lecture discusses various topics and focuses not only on writers, their creations, and the impact that writing has on humanity, but also the mutual responsibility we have for the Earth. He ruminates on the interplay between pessimism (which people assume he has based on the dark focus of his works) and optimism, which he challenges us to embrace and recognize in the power of the written word. Golding says,

Words may, through the devotion, the skill, the passion, and the luck of writers prove to be the most powerful thing in the world. They may move men to speak to each other because some of those words somewhere express not just what the writer is thinking but what a huge segment of the world is thinking. They may allow man to speak to man, the man in the street to speak to his fellow until a ripple becomes a tide running through every nation – of commonsense, of simple healthy caution, a tide that rulers and negotiators cannot ignore so that nation does truly speak unto nation. Then there is hope that we may learn to be temperate, provident, taking no more from nature’s treasury than is our due. It may be by books, stories, poetry, lectures we who have the ear of mankind can move man a little nearer the perilous safety of a warless and provident world.

You may listen to a recording of Golding’s Nobel lecture here.

In the year before his death in 1993, Golding reflected with melancholy on the body of his literary career. Comparing his few works to other writers whose works number in the hundreds, Golding said,

The list makes me more aware of wasted time, the years the locusts have eaten, than of achievement. Seeing them in my mind’s eye I feel a little depressed, like a tourist catching sight of Stonehenge from a distance and for the first time: “not a very impressive scatter of a few stones heaped in a plain without much feature and under a gloomy sky.”

Of course when the tourist (if he can) gets inside the stone circle he will find things much different, and I hope against hope that the same thing can be said of my books.

golding3When looking at Golding’s philosophical attitude about Lord of the Flies, one interpretation is that each individual must acknowledge his connection to all people. Humanity’s problems stem from lack of awareness of this truth. People remain trapped inside themselves, too self-absorbed to look at the world around them. Only if people are able to see themselves as part of the whole, not as islands, will they find salvation. Humans must somehow find a way to connect with outer reality. Golding believes that humans’ intelligence will help them to make this necessary connection: one cannot change basic human nature, but can recognize and understand it. In so doing, individuals can willfully choose to suppress the savagery beneath their humanity.

For a commentary on Golding’s reputation in literary circles, check out William Boyd’s “Man as an Island,” published in the New York Times Book Review in 2010.

adapted from material by Jane Gutherman, DPHS English Department

Sep 25, 2020 - AP Literature    Comments Off on Esperanza Onstage

Esperanza Onstage

In 2009, the Steppenwolf Theatre Company in Chicago produced a stage version of The House on Mango Street as part of its Steppenwolf for Young Adults series. Written by Tanya Saracho, the play dramatizes many of the vignettes of the novel, with music and performances bringing the characters and neighborhood to life. The production was directed by Hallie Gordon and featured Belinda Cervantes, Gina Cornejo, Sandra Delgado, Liza Fernandez, Ricardo Gutierrez, Christina Nieves, Tony Sancho and Mari Stratton. Here are three scenes from the production, taken from “Our Good Day,” “The Family of Little Feet,” and “My Name.”

Sep 23, 2020 - AP Literature    Comments Off on Sandra Cisneros Introduction

Sandra Cisneros Introduction

Sandra Cisneros

Sandra Cisneros was born in Chicago, Illinois, in 1954 to a Mexican father and Mexican-American mother, the only girl in a house with six brothers. Her work “deals with the formation of Chicana identity, exploring the challenges of being caught between Mexican and Anglo-American cultures, facing the misogynist attitudes present in both these cultures, and experiencing poverty.” The family moved often between Illinois and Mexico. These travels informed much of her early life and helped plant the seed of restlessness that has endured throughout her career. Today, she is widely hailed as one of the most successful Chicana writers, someone whose “sense of ethnic identity or chicanismo animates their work manifestly and fundamentally, often through the presentation of Chicano characters, cultural situations, and speech patterns.” (Paredes)

The Cisneros family lived in many different places in the Humboldt Park neighborhood, which was well-known as a neighborhood of immigrants, first from Europe and Eastern Europe, then transforming into a primarily Puerto Rican neighborhood in the 1950s. They settled into a small brick house on Campbell Street which later became one of the most famous fictional addresses in the country. Her father worked as an upholsterer while her mother, moody and unfulfilled as the mother of seven, sought escape through trips to libraries and museums.

Cisneros as a child in front of the Chicago residence that informed  The House on Mango Street
Cisneros as a child in Chicago

Cisneros noted during an interview with Chicago Reader that “My memories when I was living in Chicago were struggling with getting to and from school or work and just writing on the side.” She wrote constantly, gaining the nickname “the poet” from her high school classmates. After graduating, Cisneros attended Loyola University of Chicago, graduating with a degree in English, and then the famous University of Iowa Writers Workshop, where she earned her master’s degree in poetry in 1978. In 1980, her first chapbook of poetry, Bad Boys, was published. After graduation, she returned to Chicago, where she worked as a teacher and counselor at the Latino Youth Alternative High School and later as an administrative assistant at her college alma mater.

Biography — Sandra Cisneros
Cisneros around the time The House on Mango Street was published.

Her best-known work, The House on Mango Street, made its debut in 1984. The central character, Esperanza Cordero, shares many of the experiences and thoughts that Cisneros did growing up in Humboldt Park. It was most readers’ first exposure to Cisneros’s poetic voice. The House on Mango Street has sold more than six million copies and been translated into more than twenty languages. It was selected as the One Book One Chicago read in 2009.

The same year The House on Mango Street was published, Cisneros moved to San Antonio, Texas, to take a job as the Literature Director at the Guadalupe Arts Center. During her years in Texas, Cisneros expanded her voice–she honors her migrant roots by writing in both Spanish and English–and began earning the awards that have marked her exceptional career. Her works written during that time encompass poetry (My Wicked Wicked Ways, 1987, Loose Woman, 1994), short stories (Woman Hollering Creek, 1991), novels (Caramelo, 2002, and the illustrated fable Have You Seen Marie?, 2012), and children’s books (Hairs/Pelitos, 1994, and Bravo Bruno!, 2011).

Cisneros’s numerous awards are listed in the biography on her official website. She has earned fellowships in both poetry and fiction from the National Endowment for the Arts and was awarded a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship, commonly known as the “genius grant,” in 1995. Cisneros is also well-known for her community activism and her work in social justice. She is the founder of both the Macondo Foundation and the Alfredo Cisneros de Moral Foundation for emerging writers. She is the organizer of Los Macarturos, a group of Latino MacArthur Fellows who are also community activists. For her activism, she earned the Ford Foundation’s Art of Change Fellowship and was recognized among The Frederick Douglass 200. Cisneros has been awarded multiple literary prizes including the Texas Medal of the Arts, Chicago’s Fifth Star Award, the PEN Center USA Literary Award, the Fairfax Prize, and the PEN/Nabokov Award for international literature.

Cisneros was interviewed for the PBS News Hour in 2015 after the publication of A House of My Own: Stories from My Life, a collection of early writings. Listen to her talk about making her place as an immigrant writer and her lifelong search for home.

After nearly thirty years in San Antonio, Cisneros moved to San Miguel de Allende, a small town in Mexico, where she still lives as “nobody’s mother and nobody’s wife.” She holds dual American and Mexican citizenship and continues to teach and lead workshops and write. Her most recent book, Puro Amor (2018) is another series of poetic vignettes, this time about the fictional Mr. and Mrs. Rivera’s “la casa azul” full of interesting animals, written in both English and Spanish and illustrated by the author.

In 2016, President Barack Obama awarded Cisneros the National Medal of Arts “…for enriching the American narrative. Through her novels, short stories, and poetry, she explores issues of race, class, and gender through the lives of ordinary people straddling multiple cultures. As an educator, she has deepened our understanding of American identity.”

Obama to present two local artists with National Medals of Art | WOAI

References
https://www.arts.gov/2015-national-medal-arts-ceremony-photos
https://www.biography.com/writer/sandra-cisneros
https://www.chicagoreader.com/chicago/author-sandra-cisneros-interview-memoir/Content?oid=19308626
https://www.sandracisneros.com
https://www.santafenewmexican.com/pasatiempo/books/readings_signings/building-her-own-house-sandra-cisneros/article_d93e23e7-35a5-5ab0-a288-9d8fe30bc2be.html
https://www.womenshistory.org/education-resources/biographies/sandra-cisneros

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