Last Call.

December 23, 2010

I would like to first begin, with English 255 being the first course at Queens College where I was asked to blog.  Whether typing feelings on the novel of the week, or just feelings in general.  At first I was hesitant, mostly because not only did you, the professor, have access to my thoughts, but classmates as well. However, I soon fell in love with the fact that I had a place to go just to type on anything and everything.   Simply having a blog that you spend time on shows positive aspects of your personal character. Another benefit of blogging from this class was the ability to write about what you want to write about. It gives you the freedom to be your own editor, to produce something of substance and develop your craft.  I often found myself looking at blogs not only from the class role but just blogs that were offered for views on the Internet.   The fact that you let us stray away from the proposed assignment was probably what I loved most about this class.  The fact that you were willing to read and grade us on whatever we wanted to talk about in the particular novel was so refreshing.  Steering away from the ten page paper final on something you can not even make three paragraphs about was such a   generous, early Christmas present.

As I finish up this course, I went back over the syllabus.  You stressed how this particular course has considerably evolved over the years, becoming less a course dedicated to presenting the so-called canon to a course offering a greater representation of the experience of women and minorities.  You went on to say, that we will experience a lot in 255, and we will communicate our reactions, thoughts, doubts, and misgivings.  That is what the blog helped me do, especially if I could not make it to class.  It was easy to read an assignment and read at home and then post your thoughts onto your blog.  However, without your guide, this course would have been much more difficult.  If I had not gone to class the week before, during, and after The Sound and the Fury or Heart of Darkness, I would have been completely lost.  Another great thing I received from this course was falling in love with the books you particularly enjoyed.  It was obvious when you expressed your feelings on the Sound and the Fury how much you take pleasure in it.  Your words before reading, only made me more eager to jump into the text.  Overall, your enthusiasm in these works you had chosen for the class, only helped me become more excited to read.  It was obvious you loved the particular texts you chose.

I guess, in conclusion to the course, I “almost” understand the question marks on this 255? Class website.  Which, bottom line, is reading.  A big question mark.  I think that is what I enjoy most about being an English major, the option that you get to love a book or despise it. Thats almost odd, because it almost sounds like being an English major is simple?!

I think that this class was very inimitable. I think that there really isn’t more merit in any type or age of writing. I think that the canon is basically futile.   Everyone is going to have their own opinion on what author they like and do not like. A canon is just some other peoples opinion at base.  What a canon does do is make there less of a chance for new writers to get their work into the class room. No novel is really worth more than another one. Lets face it, work that is in the canon, must be very well written for sure.  But it is not what everyone gets enjoyment from, and that is what reading is about, enjoying yourself.  The Canon refers to the Hemingway and the Elliots of the world, the socially acceptable text.  But that is exactly what I like least about  Literature.  I appreciate the gruesome, the truth, the hard facts, the child getting his face eaten off by a pig as a baby in Diaz’s text, and the sick and twisted relationships in The Sound and The Fury.  That is what keeps me, as a reader, coming back for more. I would say my least favorite text was Obama’s.  Because I could not find any connection with it, it was to plain for my liking.

For future syllabuses, i think there should include more “global” works.  Straying away from American writers, really helps one learn about our world.  We all too often forget that others have it much worse than us. Introudcing other cultures and customs would help enlighten us, and help us look at the bigger picture… Just a thought.  Thanks for your time.   To you professor, and my other classmates, a very happy holiday and healthy new year.

Voice=Identity.

December 8, 2010

A Song for a Barbarian Reed Pipe:

In this final chapter, Kingston discusses further the difficulties she experienced growing up as a Chinese-American female.

“I remember telling the Hawaiian teacher, “We Chinese cant sing ‘land where our fathers died’.”

“The girls were not mute.  They screamed and yelled during recess, where there were no rules; they had fist-fights.”

Brave Orchid’s supposedly cut Kingston’s frenum, which in cutting would restrict the tongue’s movement. One cannot imagine living without that.  More and more struggles are expressed throughout this chapter.  Kingston searches to locate a middle ground in which she can live within each of these two respective cultures.

Although the book seems to be a blend of fact and fantasy, the fifth chapter brings forth some unforgettable incidents.  This chapter helps  tie up some loose ends for the narrator.

Obviously, the difference between Chinese and American cultures was quite marked in the fifties.   Concepts that seemed normal to Americans were unfamiliar to a little Chinese girl. Kingston, in fact thought it was normal not to speak.  At first it did not occur to Kingston that it was necessary to talk, or even pass kindergarten.  That’s how different Chinese and American culture was. Her fear of speaking recalls the previous chapter, in which Moon Orchid’s ability to talk greatly diminished when she met her husband. The silence that Moon Orchid, Kingston, and other Chinese girls in Kingston’s school experience seems culturally based. “The other Chinese girls did not talk either,” Kingston notes, “so I knew the silence had to do with being a Chinese girl.” Chinese cultures traditionally frown upon the female who speaks her mind.  While on the other hand, American culture is based on the rights of the individual.

After American school, the Chinese went to Chinese school.  There, the girls were not scared to use their voices.  Here all the students read in unison, here the Chinese girls felt more comfortable, more at home.  Here, the girls feel somewhat normal,  until a new teacher is introduced.  Now the girls have to stand and recite out loud, and alone.  Here the comfort that they found in the Chinese schools is shattered.  Kingston and her sisters’ voices fade regularly. Kingston’s and her sister’s experience in the Chinese schools again stress language’s power to create personal identities.

Kingston’s lack of confidence in speaking English continues into adulthood. it remains excruciating for her to ask a bus driver for directions.  Even casually saying hello, bothers Kingston.  “A telephone call makes my throat bleed and takes up that day’s courage,” To become more assimilated into American culture, Kingston believes that she must totally ignore her Chinese traits.  Perhaps in rejecting her Chinese traits, she will be less afraid to use her voice.  She also decides that she will never be a slave or a wife, both female roles that she associates with Brave Orchid’s talk-stories. Kingston claims that she has her own future plans, which do not include marrying

The book concludes in arguments:

“I didn’t say you were ugly…That’s what we’re supposed to say. That’s what Chinese say. We like to say the opposite.” Brave Orchid says that Kingston has been misunderstanding her all these years. Perhaps, by confronting her mother, Kingston finds her true voice, a voice that is a mix of American and Chinese.  Identity is a main topic throughout this text, specifically “female” identity.  It is a relief to know Kingston, by the end of this novel, finally spoke up.

Shaman/Western Palace

December 6, 2010

In Shaman, Brave Orchid (Kingstons mother) finds independence and triumph at the Keung School of Midwifery. After her first two children died in China, Orchid decided to use the money her husband sent her to become a doctor. She attended a medical school in the city of Canton. Here, she is responsible for no one but herself.   Orchid quickly makes herself known as one of the more brilliant students in her class. She impresses her classmates when she fights and destroys a spiteful ghost.

Orchid returns to her village, here she is treated like a magician or shaman.  Orchid has peculiar abilities to both heal the sick and to destroy or scare away ghosts. She fools ghosts that seek to prey on newborn babies. Kingston vibrantly recalls one talk-story in which Chinese people eat brains out of the head of a living monkey. When i had finished reading this section, I perhaps thought Orchid was a true hero among her people.  A warrior in every sense, I’m not sure I felt the same with the conclusion of this chapter.

The last section of Shaman takes place in the present.  Kingston’ is visiting her  parents. Orchid whines about life in America, how hard her work is.  She claims time passes to quickly in America. Orchid also tells Kingston that they have finally given away their remaining lands in China and now will never go back. I’m not sure if there is some underlying coincidence here, maybe that Orchids past is in the past for a reason.  Maybe in making this point, that is why the final section of this chapter is in present day.    And in fact, Kingston knew they never would have returned anyway.  Orchid begs her daughter to come and live with them again.   Kingston says she gets too sick when she is home.  She claims to many ghosts bother her.  I think the ghosts do haunt Kingston, but i think there is more reason behind that excuse as to not return to her parents.  Near the end of Shaman, Kingston is surprised  that her mother refers to her as “Little Dog.” That nickname depicts love.  This chapter depicts the struggles of Orchid’s life and the relationship she has with her daughter, Kingston.  Kingston seems to gain inspiration from some of Orchids choices, for example, being a woman warrior in her own right.  A woman of incredible powers who escapes her traditional, stereotypical Chinese stay at home wife ways.

On the other hand, Orchid reinforces many of the negative labels that Chinese women are, unfortunately,   born with.  This is evident particularly in her descriptions of the slave-nurse who seemed to be worthier to her than her own daughter. It seems to me this mother daughter relationship is at somewhat based upon lies.  Kingston never knows if these talk-stories are real or not. We never quite know—as Kingston herself never knows—what, in these stories, is factual and what resides merely in the imagination of either Kingston or  Orchid. Perhaps the absence of her father has something to do with the way the relationship of Kingston and her mother plays out.  Orchid perhaps tells these stories because these stories are how she wanted to be, how she wished to live her life or maybe it really is the truth.  She may be telling these simply because she does not want Kingston following in her footsteps, or even to somehow leave her footsteps in her daughters life, even if that means telling fables that scare her half to death.

Upon research too, I have learned that the Chinese culture does a fair bit of worshipping to many different ghosts: http://www.chinaculture.org/gb/en_chinaway/2004-03/17/content_46337.htm

I think most of the power from “In the Western Palace” comes from the blending of sorrow and humor.  Orchid is both a tragic figure, and a comic.  In a sudden and powerful role reversal, Brave Orchid and Moon Orchid become the ghosts in America. Despite all her mistakes, we see Orchid’s tender side.  She tries desperately to comfort Moon Child as she slowly deteriorates.  Brave Orchids begs for her sisters spirit to come home, much like her friends at medical school.  Brave Orchid humors her sisters paranoid delusions.  Throughout this story we are reminded of Kingston’s true feelings towards her mother.  Although “At the Western Palace” seems less of a talk-story than the previous chapters, Kingston is strengthened by recalling Moon Orchid’s struggle to assimilate in America.

No Name Woman and White Tigers.

Kingston really blew my mind.  Upon reading this book I thought it was about a women who went to war, or was fighiting for her country.  After the first two chapters, I realized, Kingston was fighting for her self,her soul, for survival.

In the first chapter we learn that narrators aunt has killed herslf.  “Your aunt gave birth in the pigsty that night. The next morning when I went for the water, I found her and the baby plugging up the family well.” So blatantly put, yet so dramatic.  Kingston’s mother tells her the story as a cautionary tale, in the years Kingston begins to menstruate. Kingston comes to realize she lives in an “invisible world of ghosts”. Kingston believes that her aunt decides to kill herself and her baby together in order to spare the child a life without purpose. Kingston also notes that the baby was probably a girl, and as such she would have been considered practically useless to society.  That is a theme that shines throughout these chapters.  Gender issues is something that is such a disaster around the world.  I’m happy to be living in a free country.  The most vivid parts of the chapter are those in which Kingston lets her imagination about her aunt run free. She imagines her aunt in heartbreaking detail.  It is obvious that this story deeply moves her.  And it should.

The first section of “White Tigers” is Kingston’s childhood fantasy of living the life of Fa Mu Lan, the woman warrior—a story that derives from one of Brave Orchid’s talk-stories. In this fantasy Kingston comes upon a hut where she meets an old couple who want to make her into a warrior.  As part of training, she spends years alone on the mountain of the great tiger.  She fasts, and no food causes her to hallucinate and have fantasies about the world.  This section really has a feel of a war epic.

The story of Fa Mu Lan provides an alternative to the traditional Chinese beliefs—espoused by Brave Orchid and others, about the place of women in society. As the woman warrior, Kingston takes on a traditionally male role.  She ties her hair and intimidates a male to bring fear to her enemies.  In her fnatasy though, she is not simply taking on the role of a male, but also is a female avenger.  She is a warrior but still has the capacity to love and be gentle.  There is many role reversals sprinkled throughout this chapter.  Like the sky sword created out of thin air, Kingston’s words have only as much power as she can give them. Kingston can turn roles around if she wants, she can see through stereotypes if she fights.  She can give birth to new ideas, she can be a warrior in every sense a man can be a warrior.

Obama’s Dreams

December 1, 2010

” A Story of Race and Inhertiance”

I never had to deal with the problems of the color of my skin, so before I started this book i decided to go into it open minded.  The fact that African American boy born into poverty can succeed to become the leader of our nation is truly remarkable. I did not vote for Obama, nor did I look forward to reading this piece, but it did strike me as a truly heroic story.. I am glad I went into this book with no previous stereotypes.  I allowed no thought to go into my mind about how this man is ruling over our country, with declining support from the people of America.  I thought not of the author, but of the man who overcame a hell of a lot to get to where he is today.

Obama formed an image of his absent father from stories told by his mother and her parents. He saw his father only one more time, in 1971, when Obama Sr. came to Hawaii for a month’s visit. Obama takes readers from his boyhood memories of Hawaii to his grassroots efforts to help African Americans in Chicago to his search in Kenya for a solid connection with the father he barely knew. Throughout this book, Obama tells us of his struggles faced mainly because of his race.  I understand why many of my classmates think  this is written only to help in his presidential election.

This book also suffers at times from hints that this public-minded man writes too self-consciously before a reading public. Overall, this book shows its talented, socially committed author as a person to watch, a leader being born.

Obama seems to have found his identity, which he was searching for throughout, at the end of this book.  Maybe if i start writing about my life, i can find who i really am too.  All in all, he really is an intelligent  man.  President or not, this books author deserves attention.  I have not read many books on racial issues, in fact, this may be the first.  Obama does a fantastic job in showing how we can bridge the issue that should not be an issue- the color of our skin.