STORY

Story is a word that has many different and broad definitions, due to the fact that the word itself can be used in various ways. Essentially, a story is anything that is told or written.  According to the Oxford English Dictionary, a story is “A short account of an amusing, interesting, or telling incident, whether real or fictitious; an anecdote.” An alternate definition of the word as a verb rather than a noun, also provided by the Oxford English Dictionary is “to relate in a history, to record the history of.”  The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines story as “an account of incidents or events; a statement regarding the facts pertinent to a situation in question.” According to Dictionary.com, a story is “a narrative, either true or fictitious, in prose or verse, designed to interest, amuse, or instruct the hearer or reader; tale.” While all of these definitions point to sharing of information, some emphasize aspects of diction, writing, history, and anecdotes.  Stories have been written in literature, or have been passed down by word of mouth for generations. Stories are also a large part of history, as before books were written, stories were passed down to spread of information.

The word story has had many different meanings over time, all of which have evolved to create the meaning of the word today. In the 1200’s a story was originally  defined as “narrative of important events or celebrated persons of the past.” The word is derived from Old French estorie, estoire, “story, chronicle, history,” from Late Latin storia, and then later was shortened from Latin historia “history, account, tale, story.”  According to Etymonline.com, in the 1200’s, the word story was known as a “connected account or narration of some happening,” The word was first recorded in the late 14th century, and it meant “recital of true events.” The word story was originally derived from the word history, however in the 1500’s the word was finally differentiated from history.  In the 1690’s stories were often considered as a euphemism for a lie.

Stories have been written in literature, or have been passed down by word of mouth for generations. Stories are also a large part of history, as before books were written, stories were passed down to spread of information. Stories are most often found within three mediums; literature, passing from word of mouth, and used within everyday life. In most daily conversations, people tell stories as a form of discussion, and basic communication. However, stories within literature can also be considered many different things. A novel itself could be considered a story, or stories could be found within the context of a novel.

One reason stories are important are because they allow us to learn lessons. One component of stories is that there needs to be a lesson or takeaway at the end. Children can only learn so much by just being told something. Having a story allows for the children to internalize the lesson and understand why it’s important (Rathnam). A story always adds a layer of realness to a lesson. The Inuit people use storytelling as opposed to yelling. For example in order to teach kids to stay away from the water they told kids that a big monster would drag you down to the bottom if you wandered too close. Kids wouldn’t need to be yelled at because they would just be afraid (Doucleff). Even if the story being told is fiction, reading about the characters and the situation they go through helps children empathize with both fictional characters and real people.

Stories are also important for understanding different cultures. Every culture on earth has its own stories. They span from a collection in a book like European fairy tales to spoken legends from Native American culture. While the stories all may seem similar, the lessons and central themes are very different. For example, a common theme in Northern European fairy tales is the idea that you will be rewarded for being good. A prime example of this is Cinderella. Cinderella is treated very poorly by her step sisters, as they make her do every chore in the house while calling her names, like Cinderella. All the while Cinderella kept working and trying to be nice and polite to her new sisters. In the Grimm Brothers version, at the end the sisters eyes are pecked out by birds while Cinderella becomes the princess. Another story this lesson is present in is Snow White. Snow White is regarded as the fairest in the land in her story, which makes an evil witch jealous. The witch tries to have snow white killed by assassin and later by poison.  At the end of the story when the witch fails, she goes to Snow White’s wedding where she is forced into red hot iron shoes to dance until she’s dead while Snow White also becomes a princess. Contrast this with the ideas of American Folk Tales where they focus on determination. One American folk tale is John Henry. John Henry was a railroad worker in early America. When a new machine came that threatened to put all the workers out of business, John Henry challenged the machine to a race. Through his determination and strength he won, only to die shortly after from working so hard. Another story is that of Paul Bunyan, who became a legend with his work clearing trees. It’s important to realize these differences in cultures, so we can avoid judging others by the standards of our own culture.

Stories are beneficial for understanding other cultures through more of their own lens and for teaching lessons to people. These both go hand in hand as the stories a culture choses to tell also determines what lessons that nation will learn. Stories are important because with stories we can start to understand cultures that we didn’t grow up in.

A single story plays a significant role in literature and today’s society. A single story creates biases or paints the wrong picture of a particular person, group or event. In her TED Talk, “The Danger of a Single Story,” Chimamanda Adichie explains how a story can have dangerous attributes if it is told via the “single story” approach. Adichie says,

So, after I had spent some years in the U.S. as an African, I began to understand my roommate’s response to me. If I had not grown up in Nigeria, and if all I knew about Africa were from popular images, I too would think that Africa was a place of beautiful landscapes, beautiful animals, and incomprehensible people, fighting senseless wars, dying of poverty and AIDS, unable to speak for themselves and waiting to be saved by a kind, white foreigner. I would see Africans in the same way that I, as a child, had seen Fide’s family (5:44, 2009).

The single story represents the racial prejudice that has and still does occur in today’s society as it allows us to make assumptions, create stereotypes, emphasize our differences, and dehumanize other races. Adichie provides examples of this concept through her personal experiences when she states, “I remember walking around on my first day in Guadalajara, watching the people going to work, rolling up tortillas in the marketplace, smoking, laughing. I remember first feeling slight surprise. And then, I was overwhelmed with shame. I realized that I had been so immersed in the media coverage of Mexicans that they had become one thing in my mind, the abject immigrant. I had bought into the single story of Mexicans and I could not have been more ashamed of myself” (Adichie 8:42). What Adichie does here is refer to how in today’s society, we are judging people based on what we have been told to believe, which Adichie disagrees on when seeing the other side to the “story”. It shows how media can play a role in shaping the single story by only representing a culture based on how they want to portray it, or what they think that know. Today, people will hear a single story, believe in that story and run with it, with no desire to become knowledgeable of the reality that no culture, person, or race can be depicted by a singular story. This is exemplified towards the end of the Ted talk when Adichie states, “The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story” (Adichie 12:45).

Claudia Rankine’s Citizen: An American Lyric  provides different examples of how the single-story concept comes to play. In doing so, she addresses and presents the numerous microaggressions, or the unintentional or subtle things said or done to discriminate against someone, that black people have to face on a consistent basis. By inviting the reader to experience the stories being told via the second person, it shows just how powerful these racial prejudices that are caused from the singular story are. One example that illustrates this is when Rankine talks about the Caroline Wozniacki imitation of Serena Williams controversy. Wozniacki, another very talented tennis player, imitated Serena by stuffing towels in her top and shorts as a joke with supposed “good intentions”. This exemplifies the danger of a single story. Wozniacki racially targeted Serena by associating her attributes to that of Sarah Baartman, a woman with large breasts and a large butt. She was used as a symbol during the 19th century. Her body was used as an attraction and to represent hypersexuality of a black woman. During that time, her parts were compared to females of European decent. She was considered more developed than the average woman and that fascinated the public during that time. According to Meserette Kentake,

Baartman was exhibited at a venue in London after her arrival. For 2 shillings, from 1pm to 5pm, at 225 Piccadilly, people could witness Baartman displayed as animal-like and exotic. On stage she wore skin-tight, flesh-coloured clothing, as well as beads and feathers, and smoked a pipe. She was forced to show off her derrière in a cage that was about a metre and half high. Wealthy customers could pay for private demonstrations in their homes, with their guests allowed to touch her (The Weekly Challenger, 2017).

This negative cognition is represented in Wozniacki’s way to dehumanize Serena while still mocking and pretending to be the best tennis player in the world. She created the idea that Serena is similar to Sarah and if someone didn’t know Serena other than she was the best tennis player in the world, then they would be corrupted with the single story that she is a black woman with huge breasts and a huge butt. She will be viewed in the eyes of others with this hypersexual aspect.

Additionally, Rankine addresses the microaggressions that are demonstrated in the text while reminding the reader that it is a result of the single story that was told to the neighbor in the example. Rankine says, “You and your partner go to see the film The House We Live In. You ask a friend to pick up your child from school. On your way home your phone rings. Your neighbor tells you he is standing at his window watching a menacing black guy casing both your homes. The guy is walking back and forth talking to himself and seems disturbed. You tell your neighbor that your friend, whom he has met, is babysitting. He says, no, it’s not him. He’s met your friend and this isn’t that nice young man. Anyway, he wants you to know, he’s called the police” (Rankine III). This shows that in this situation, the neighbor automatically assumed this black person was causing mischief. The neighbor most likely thought this way because he is using the single-story lens to predict the outcome of what this black person’s motives were, as people tend to associate black people with crimes more so to that of a white person.

Though stories are seen to be informational, for pleasure or to teach a lesson, stories can have a damaging effect. Think back to stories you have heard in your life or when someone tells you about a story or conflict they had with another person. When you’re not told both sides of the story, you immediately become defensive for the friend who shared the story, but what about the other party? What about their side of the story? How would you feel if someone treated you a way when they didn’t know your stance? It can be damaging and unfair. Now just imagine the damage or how bad the world is because of these single stories. If we don’t know about something or want to know, try to get a more accurate story or ask multiple people. Knowing what a single story can do, we need to move away from this and do further unbiased research.

Works Cited

“Chimamanda Adichie: The Danger of a Single Story.” PsycE“Chimamanda Adichie:

Doucleff, Michaeleen. “Storytelling Instead Of Scolding: Inuit Say It Makes Their Children More Cool-Headed.” NPR, NPR, 4 Mar. 2019, www.npr.org/2019/03/04/689925669/storytelling-instead-of-scolding-inuit-say-it-makes-their-children-more-cool-hea.

Kentake, Meserette. “Sarah Baartman: The ‘First Known Black Female Victim of Trafficking.” –, The Weekly Challenger, 5 Jan. 2017,

Rathnam, Tharani. “Why Is Storytelling Important To Children In This Digital World?” ParentCircle. Parentcircle, 02 May 2019. Web. 01 May 2019.

“story, n.” OED Online, Oxford University Press, March 2019, www.oed.com/view/Entry/190981. Accessed 6 May 2019.

“Story | Search Online Etymology Dictionary.” Index, www.etymonline.com/search?q=story.

“Story.” Merriam-Webster, Merriam-Webster, www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/story.

www.theweeklychallenger.com/sarah-baartman-the-first-known-black-female-victim-of-trafficking/.Vang, Nong. @californong Now I can read in the dark. 2018 unsplash https://unsplash.com/photos/9pw4TKvT3po

Humor

Definition of Humor

Humor is a term or trait used to bring about laughter or emotion towards people or an individual, which creates a positive state of mind for the targeted audience. There are several terms for the definition of humor. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, humor is defined as “A temporary state of mind or feeling; a mood. Frequently with in and modifying word, as bad, happy.” Another definition in the OED defines humor as “Behaviour or actions regarded as whimsical, odd, quaint, or (in later use) amusing, esp. as personified by a character in a comedy. Now rare.” (Plural). In addition, humor can be used as “ a literary tool that makes audiences laugh, or that intends to induce amusement or laughter.” (Oxford English Dictionary). Humor’s purpose is to break the monotony, boredom, and tedium, and make the audience relax. A writer may use different techniques, tools, and words in order to bring to light new and funny sides of life. Humor is often found in literature, theater, movies, and advertising; the major purpose is to make the audience happy. Humor can be used in both literary context and in relation to the audience in order to attract the reader and make their emotions feel connected and related to the piece of literature or text. Humor however does not specifically have to be funny or positive, as stated above humor can be regarded as odd, or have a certain mood that shifts the tone in both the audience’s view and the author’s view.

    The term of humor came about in the 1520’s, not relating to the definition of humor that we currently know at all. Back then, according to UselessEtymology.com, humor(ism) was described as “ineffective means of diagnosing most things”, the different humors led to the use of the word as a general concept meaning “mood, state of mind.” Later, in the 1680’s, the term developed into the term we refer to humor now, as an engaging piece of rhetoric in written and spoken culture. According to UselessEtymology.com, humor was referred as “something funny, comedic or amusing. This meaning evolved from the sense of “humor” as a word for “mood” (e.g., “I am in an ill-humor/good humor.”), which then came to refer to both “humoring” someone’s mood or whim, and then came to refer to something that could alter your mood by making you laugh—such as a joke or a comedy play. Humor is described as something that can make you laugh or alter your mood, and still remains unchanged today as something that can affect your mood and state of mind. Everyone can experience or react to humor, whether it is positive or more gritty and edgy, humor can affect the minds of any audience. Dark humor is an uncomfortable and edgy type of humor that focuses on topics and issues which would be normally considered as not-appropriate, politically incorrect, socially abnormal or not acceptable, or a sensitive topic to talk about. Another name for dark humor is black humor as well. Dark (black) humor is “literary device used in novels and plays to discuss taboo subjects while adding an element of comedy.”, and “Etymologically, black humor is a phrase of two words black and humor.” (Literarydevices.net). Black humor is also “a humorous way of looking at or treating something that is serious or sad” (Cambridge Dictionary). It may talk about a variety of topics such as race, gender, sexuality, and more pressing issues such as rape and death. Dark humor is found in many forms of texts. Another type of humor is slapstick humor which is “Knockabout comedy or humour, farce, horseplay (Oxford English Dictionary).” Slapstick humor could refer to rough, physical, or wacky forms of comedic entertainment. It could also be “a type of humorous acting in which the actors behave in a silly way, such as by throwing things, falling over, etc.” (Cambridge Dictionary). This is present in plenty of texts and other forms of entertainment, such as movies, TV shows, and comics. In addition, there are smaller examples of humor, such as hyperbole/exaggeration. Hyperbole is described as “a way of speaking or writing that makes someone or something sound bigger and better than they are” (Cambridge Dictionary). Hyperbole is similar to exaggeration as they both blow something to a greater proportion while comparing objects in an humorous way. An example of a hyperbole is the phrase “He was in such a hurry that he drove his car at a bazillion miles per hour” (Literarydevices.net). This would be considered humorous because it is saying that he is driving his car at an incredible speed, yet the car cannot go a bazillion miles per hour because that is impossible. Many types of humor above can be used to attain a certain reactions out of an audience, which is exhibited by Myriam Gurba in her novel, Mean.

How Humor Helps When Reading Literature

Reading is one of the best ways to expand your horizons, appreciate other cultures and beliefs, as well as gaining knowledge on topics that you may not know a lot about. Humor is something that can pull you into a book and hold your attention. Humor is found in all different types of literature, even when you’re not expecting it. Some examples of humor found in literature would be the classic Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. Austen uses humor between Mr. and Mrs. Bennet with complaints and playful jokes. In the book To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, humor is used when describing characters.

Myriam Gurba’s Mean thematizes all different kinds of important topics like race, class, sexual assault and more. She tells us the story of her life, we are taken through several hardships she faces such as sexual assault, racism and homophobia. Through all these life changing events she shares with us, she manages to make us laugh through all of her tough times. This is a book that could easily make people uncomfortable, as it dives into very serious subjects. Without all of the humor entangled throughout her book, it could easily turn people away from reading it. When Gurba brings us through these uncomfortable topics, she uses humor to make light of the situation which brings you right back into the book. Humor in a book like this is an extremely effective way of getting your audience to stay attentive to the book and to gain insight into subjects that everyone should have knowledge about.

While reading isn’t for everyone, and some people even despise it, humor used in literature can change that. Humor is something that is for everyone, it’ a really great way to engage in a book and feel the need to continue reading. Another great example of humor used in literature is in the book Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay. From just looking at the cover of this book, one may think the book is strictly about feminism. There is humor strung along all throughout the pages of Bad Feminist, making it easier to stay engaged. Gay is an incredibly sassy writer and often uses curse words to make the readers laugh. An example of this would be when she says “It’s hard not to feel humorless, as a woman and a feminist, to recognize misogyny in so many forms, some great and some small, and know you’re not imagining things. It’s hard to be told to lighten up because if you lighten up any more, you’re going to float the f*ck away” (Gay). In this quote she adds in that last line not only to make her point, but to make the reader laugh.

Sometimes humor can be taken offensively, if the reader does not share the same sense of humor with the author, it is possible the reader will be easily offended. For those who do share the same sense of humor, it is quite possible you will be even more drawn to the piece of literature you are engaging in. Humor is a great way to attract a specific audience as well. If you’re the type of reader who enjoys laughing and looks for that specifically in books, then the author has done exactly what they intended to get you to read their book.

Humor as used in Mean

Myriam Gurba toys with the idea of humor throughout her novel. Gurba grapples with serious situations from rape, assault, molestation, family life, friendships and much more. Within the heart of the hard to talk about subjects, she weaves humor into the fabric of her writing. Light hearted subjects? In pops a line to make the reader giggle. Just when the reader least expects to laugh? Gurba throws in a joke. The humor makes the story unpredictable and exciting to read.

In the chapter “Judas and Icarus,” Gurba talks about when she met her friend Ida and how much she loves her; all of a sudden out pops a humous line that says, “She once smoked crack on accident. She thought it was heroin” (Gurba 12). Not only is this line out of the blue because it follows a sentence that reads, “I loved her when I was five, I loved her when I was six, I loved her when I was seven… I loved her when I was twelve, and I loved her when I was thirteen. I have loved her up until now, and I have loved her in the future” (Gurba 12). It is out of the blue because the reader doesn’t expect a line about drugs to come after the author professing her love about her best friend. When discussing love, the thought of crack and heroin doesn’t generally come to mind. But by adding them when least expected, Gurba is creating humor which keeps the reader intrigued.

Gurba also uses humor that can make the reader feel uncomfortable. In the chapter “Senorita,” Gurba is talking about how a boy name Macauley is wearing a sheepskin sweater. Then she talks about how fluffy it looks and the idea of wanting to touch it, then before the reader can prepare for a humorous line, Gurba writes, “I wanted to touch the fleece. I wanted to squeeze it the way I sometimes longed to squeeze big boobs. Have you ever wanted to milk a well-endowed lady? Seriously milk her?” (Gurba 24). Gurba creates uncomfortable humor because she invites the reader to think about the questions asked. Questions that the reader in general doesn’t want to think about. This uncomfortable humor brings about a laugh from the audience. The laugh from the audience is a way to diffuse an uncomfortable situation brought on by the idea of milking a woman the way one would milk a cow.

Gurba uses dark and sarcastic humor to discuss racial inequality, inviting the reader to laugh along with her.  Gurba talks about the stereotypes that people of color are supposed to follow and says, “Young people of color are supposed to enjoy looting and eating trans fats, not sustained silent reading, but I found a way to reconcile my assigned stereotype with my passions. I microwaved nachos and ate them while reading Jackie Collins paperbacks I stole from my mother- trans fats, looting, and literature.” She makes fun of the way she follows through with the stereotypes society has give her. She eats nachos, and steals her mother’s books while also doing an activity that she likes. In addition,  Gurba makes fun of racial stereotypes by saying, “One of these hos, Janet (well say her last name is Jackson) was gifted with an ass that didn’t match her ethnicity- a Swedish face with an Oakland booty” (Gurba 35). The reader makes fun of the stereotypes by calling a girl with a big butt an African American name and saying she from a predominantly African American neighborhood. Gurba uses political humor while talking about racial stereotypes. The injustices that many African American and minority groups go through can be life threatening. She uses the political humor to diffuse the seriousness of the issues at hand dealing with racial stereotypes. By using this humor, it sheds a new light on recurring matters.  Gurba uses humor to keep the reader intrigued, uncomfortable, and to break the stigma of racial stereotypes. The reader sees a new form of humor such as light hearted humor, dark humor, sarcastic humor, and much more with every page they turn. Through adding humor where it is least expected, the reader feels a sense unpredictability. When readers sit down to read a work of literature, they should be on the lookout for humor. The style in which the author presents their message is important. If an author is using humor, sometimes it may be comfortable and other times it make feel awkward and uncomfortable. When heavy topics such as rape, murder, and molestation are talked about as they are in Mean, be prepared to feel uncomfortable at times. The more outside of your comfort zone you can read, the more potential for new knowledge to be learned.  

Works Cited

“BLACK HUMOUR | Definition in the Cambridge English Dictionary.” BLACK HUMOUR | Definition in the Cambridge English Dictionary, dictionary.cambridge.org/us/dictionary/english/black-humour.

Gay, R. (2019). Bad Feminist.

Gurba, M. (2017). Mean (1st ed.). Minneapolis: Coffee House Press.

“HYPERBOLE | Definition in the Cambridge English Dictionary.” HYPERBOLE | Definition in the Cambridge English Dictionary, dictionary.cambridge.org/us/dictionary/english/hyperbole.

“SLAPSTICK | Definition in the Cambridge English Dictionary.” SLAPSTICK | Definition in the Cambridge English Dictionary, dictionary.cambridge.org/us/dictionary/english/slapstick.

Oxford English Dictonary. (2019) Retrieved from https://libproxy.cortland.edu:3596/view/Entry/181383?redirectedFrom=slapstick#eid

Oxford English Dictionary. (2019). Retrieved from https://www.oed.com/start;jsessionid=F1FB8D7795AC900D4CD3AF7E763 9B30A?authRejection=true&url=%2Fview%2FEntry%2F89416%3Frskey%3Dp B9RTo%26result%3D7%26isAd

Zafarris, V. (2019). The Etymology of “Humor”. Retrieved from https://uselessetymology.com/2017/11/29/the-etymology-of-humor/

Tradition

By: Brooke S., Kasey B., and Rose M.

Tradition has a personal meaning to everybody, whether it is family, cultural, holiday, or even personal traditions; the term brings to mind a thought or feeling that can vary from person to person. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, tradition is “the action or an act of imparting or transmitting something; something that is imparted or transmitted.” It also states tradition is “a belief, statement, custom, etc. handed down by non-written means considered collectively from generation to generation.” Throughout time the definition of tradition has not changed considerably. The definition includes a collective aspect to tradition, stemming from the surrounding family or community. It also focuses on the act of handing down and transmitting. In The Woman Warrior, this transmission comes in the form of the stories the narrator’s mother tells her.

This word comes from the Anglo-Norman and Middle French tradicion meaning action of transmitting, as well as classic Latin trāditōn, meaning transmission of knowledge. It was used more specifically in post-Classical Latin to refer to Christian teachings which were handed down by word of mouth. There the connotation of something to be followed or upheld is introduced, and later on, morphs into the definition itself and the role action plays in traditions.

Traditions can often create a feeling of community when accepted, but also a feeling of separation when not. In literary texts like A Raisin in the Sun and The Woman Warrior, the themes of going against tradition and intergenerational conflict are intertwined.  In The Woman Warrior, the narrator struggles with balancing a life in the United States, as well as keeping up with her mother’s Chinese traditions. In A Raisin In The Sun, this presents as one of the main reason for the conflict between Mama and her children. Considered together, these texts demonstrate how the traditions an older generation tries to transmit or has expectations of can be ones the younger generation wants or needs to go against.

In The Woman Warrior, the narrator has trouble distinguishing between what is legitimate Chinese tradition and what is just the media and the embellishments of the stories her mother told her. In the beginning of the book, the narrator asks “Chinese-Americans, when you try to understand what things in you are Chinese, how do you seperate what is peculiar to childhood, to poverty, insanities, one family, your mother who marked your growing with stories, from what is Chinese? What is Chinese tradition and what is the movies?”(Kingston, 5-6). From a young age, the narrator is confused on what is tradition. She feels like she is living in two cultures: the one her family has built for generations, and the American culture she resides in. This state of confusion stays steady throughout, leaving the reader to guess what stories are real, or made up.

One of these traditions the narrator recalls is her parents talking about eating back in China. Kingston writes, “On nights when my mother and father talked about their life back home, sometimes they mentioned an “outcast table” whose business they still seemed to be settling, their voices tight. In a commensal tradition, where food is precious, the powerful older people made wrongdoers eat alone. Instead of letting them start separate new lives like the Japanese, who could become samurais and geishas, the Chinese family, faces averted but eyes glowering sideways, hung on to the offenders and fed them leftovers”. Although this could be a hard story for a child to hear it is in fact apart of the tradition in the family. This is one tradition that is passed down in this family so even though it may be difficult for a young child it is still important.

The narrator faces internal conflicts with tradition through her whole life. In The Woman Warrior, this transmission comes in the form of the stories the narrator’s mother tells her.  When thinking of her outcast aunt, he narrator was the first to break tradition and tell her story. The rest of her family was taught to act as though she never existed. But the narrator decided she needed to go against the tradition to tell the story of her aunt.

Equality between genders become harder to obtain with some traditions. As mentioned on many different occasions in The Woman Warrior, women were seen as slaves. The aunt with no name was her family’s only daughter. Women in China at this time were thought of as property. As the narrator explains, “After my grandparents gave their daughter away to her husband’s family, they had dispensed all the adventure and all the property. They expected her alone to keep the traditional ways, which her brothers, now among the barbarians, could fumble without detection.” (Kingston, 8). Chinese tradition put a strain on women. They were not seen as equals, but held a lot of responsibility. Girls were often sold by their parents. Women were married off, and lived with the husband’s family. These oppressive traditions of Chinese culture were some of the stories the narrator heard as a young girl. These traditions complicate her American life, and she tries to figure out which is which, and how to balance it all. She also chooses to go against some of them in specific, such as when she refuses to cook or do the dishes, going against the tradition that women should be the ones making food and cleaning up (Kingston, 92).

Lorraine Hansberry’s “A Raisin in the Sun” demonstrates what is traditional and what rights are. A Raisin in  the Sun is about an African-American family who is living on the South side of Chicago in the 1960’s. The family is about to receive a insurance check of $10,000 which each member of the family has own ideas on what should be done with the money. Traditions have a tendency to enforce what is already happening, and be resistant to change. This is not inherently a bad thing; not all change is good. However, when it comes to the advancement of social causes and the change of the surrounding world. Take for example Beneatha in A Raisin In The Sun by Lorraine Hansberry. Beneatha wants to be a doctor when she finishes her studies, and even her brother is quick to cite tradition as an argument against it when he is upset with her. Walter states,“Who the hell told you you had to be a doctor? If you so crazy ’bout messing ’round with sick people—then go be a nurse like other women—or just get married and be quiet …” (Hansberry, 41). Here, ‘like other women’ is an example of the majority standing in for tradition. His quote implies that what is happening and has been happening for a while is what should still be happening. As this example shows, the rigidness of a tradition can make it harder for a social change to occur.

Tradition has been used in literature as a tool to contextualize character motivations in relation to the surrounding culture. A character like Beneatha wanting to become a doctor tells the reader about her willingness to go against social norms, but only if women wanting to be doctors is established as untraditional and different. In that same way, the narrator in The Woman Warrior‘s relationship to tradition is made clear in her refusal of traditionally feminine things like cook for others, as opposed to if she had went along with tradition.

Tradition is a belief or behavior that is passed down within any specific group or society with symbolic meaning and or a special significance with origins from the past. Tradition can be used to indicate the quality of a piece of information that is being discussed. One reason why tradition  is so important in literature is because most of what tradition is is stories, beliefs and rituals that are passed from generation to generation. Without tradition being passed down we most likely wouldn’t know much of what we know from authors experiences, stories and how things happened to them. Most every story tells a different story and has a different tradition tied into it in someway. Traditions also can fill peoples needs to feel like they belong to something. Tradition can also be very important because like every story we read has a different culture and traditional value along with that culture. Traditions can represent cultures and beliefs of those cultures. Tradition structures some family values and societal values. Another reason why literature was so important is because over time the way tradition was told has changed and over time text have been handed down for future generations to see and see the way it has changed over time.

Hansberry, Lorraine. A Raisin in the Sun, First Vintage Books Edition, December 1994

Kingston, Maxine Hong. The Woman Warrior; Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts, Vintage International Edition, 1989.

“tradition, n.” OED Online, Oxford University Press, March 2019, www.oed.com/view/Entry/204302.

Extra Credit: The Adventures In World Making Event

The Adventures in World Making event that was held in Old Main 220, showcased eight SUNY Cortland graduate students discussing novels they read and topics on two discussion questions. The first four graduate students were discussing a novel each of them were assigned to. They  talk about how the narrator’s dealt with coming to the United States and the characters experience of a culture shift. Amber Kent, a current graduate student, discussed the novel Nervous Condition by Tsitsi Dangarembga. Tambu, who is the main character of the story, is very poor in a white-dominated part of Africa called Rhodesia. Dangarembga, discusses throughout the book her experiences of the mistreatment of colonialism and oppression from the white colonists in the 1960’s. Amber gave a very brief summary of the novel, but the theme she developed from reading this is, “cultural shapeshifting”. The reason for her coming up with this theme is because Tambu becomes more fixed and established in a mission school she is involved in. Though the mission school has numerous amount of white young woman, she starts to embrace different beliefs from her traditional taught parents. The second graduate student, I didn’t really get her name and couldn’t understand her essay, but her novel she was assigned was Small Island by Andrea Levy. The third graduate student who presented her essay was, Liz. She talked about the novel, The Hickoriss Girl. Liz  talked about how this novel relates to realism and the supernatural. By giving us a deeper analysis of characters Tilly and Jess she showed they that, “they endure powers to open the gates of the superbnatural”.

Brittany, who was the fourth graduate student to present her essay about the book, Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. She discussed the difference between the African and American culture and how the characters had seen racial differences in different parts of the world. One of the topics that Brittany talks about is how Adichie discusses that there is still a racial hierarchy in Nigerian culture, however, as light-skinned or mixed-race people are considered more attractive. She uses the example of the  people on magazines are those of lighter skin. But when Ifemelu, who is the wife of Obzinie, and Obinze go to America and England respectively, they find that racism is a much more pervasive part of life. These four graduates presented these books in The Adventures in World Making event, to provide the audience of the Coming of Age Story.

Before I left to go to my last class of the day, I heard the presentation of Mike, who is a graduate student with Professor Savonick. For his presentation, he had to write an essay about two discussion questions. The first discussion question was, what does race, class, gender, and language play in equality? The second question was, How does text move us to think about gender and race differently? I didn’t to stay for much of Mike’s presentation, but I got a good portion of his presentation. He talked about the Tangentials and how we as people dismiss them for personal gain. Tangentials are according to Mike, “diverging from a previous course or line”. He link to this to the idea of people can’t really seem to provide equality in race, class, gender, and language because of the tangentials that are rather more favorable. The Adventures in World

Race

By Bella Danisi, Michael Safara, and Brooke Stanford

Have you ever thought about how race and racism have two different meanings? Adl.org provides a definition for race which “Refers to the categories into which society places individuals on the basis of physical characteristics (such as skin color, hair type, facial form and eye shape). Though many believe that race is determined by biology, it is now widely accepted that this classification system was in fact created for social and political reasons. There are actually more genetic and biological differences within the racial groups defined by society than between different groups.” According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the term “race” in 1735 was introduced as and understood to be “systems of classification: any of the (putative) major groupings of mankind, usually defined in terms of distinct physical features or shared ethnicity, and sometimes (more controversially) considered to encompass common biological or genetic characteristics”. Throughout the years, race has had many different definitions and understandings but today, it is understood to be a classification of genetic characteristics.

Racism is when someone believes their “race” is superior to others. According to Dictionary.com, racism is “a belief or doctrine that inherent differences among the various human racial groups determine cultural or individual achievement, usually involving the idea that one’s own race is superior and has the right to dominate others or that a particular racial group is inferior to the others.” Merriam-Webster.com definition of racism is, “a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race.” In addition, oxforddictionaries.com has their own interpretation, “Prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one’s own race is superior.” Racial oppression has been institutionalized into everyday customs. History has presented minorities and groups of different ethnic backgrounds with inferior statuses because of the inequalities that had been established by those with social power. These same discriminations and inequalities exist today. Examples of inequality are present within government organizations, schools, courts of law, etc. This mentality is passed down generations creating an ongoing cycle of judgement. It’s important to have it be apart of literature because it awakens us. It allows us to see how harmful racism is and the impact it has on others lives. Race is an important term and topic when we analyze literary texts. Many books thematize the lived experiences of race.

In Lorraine Hansberry’s play, A Raisin in the Sun, the Younger family, a poor African American family living in Chicago’s South Side, has a chance to escape poverty with the help of a $10,000 check earned by the late Mr. Younger. It is up to the small, but growing family, to choose what to do with the money, and what will benefit all members of the family. the Younger family faces many racial based problems when they are trying to improve their living situation by moving to a “white” neighborhood. During this period of time, the Younger family is faced with harsh racism and segregation issues and this makes it difficult for them to live and improve their lives.

Throughout the play, the Younger family faces obstacles due to the color of their skin. Hansberry explores how the Youngers’ race influences their lives, creates conflicts, and hinders the characters from completing their goals.  For example, when Mama, the head of the household, is searching for new possible homes to move her and her family into, she states “them houses they put up for colored in them areas way out all seem to cost twice as much as other houses. I did the best I could” (Hansberry, 93). Through this depiction of their struggles to move into a nice home, Hansberry critiques the historical practice of redlining. Hansberry gives the play the setting of “somewhere between World War II and the present,” highlighting the continuous relevance of difficulty for African Americans to move into decently priced homes in safe communities. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the legal definition of redlining is “the illegal practice of refusing to offer credit or insurance in a particular community on a discriminatory basis (as because of the race or ethnicity of its residents)” (Merriam-Webster). In “The Case for Reparations”, Ta-Nehisi Coates shows how serious and drastic redlining was through an interactive map displaying redlining in Chicago in the late 1930’s through the 1960’s. For community members, specifically those of minorities based on racial and ethnic groups, finding a decently priced home in a decently safe neighborhood was nearly impossible to find. Based on the demographics of a certain area, largely the South Side of Chicago, banks were refusing mortgage offers and investments. According to Coates, “In Chicago and across the country, whites looking to achieve the American dream could rely on a legitimate credit system backed by the government. Blacks were herded into the sights of unscrupulous lenders who took them for money and for sport.”

Hansberry’s play also thematizes the real life violence experienced by African Americans in 1959. Another character, Mrs. Johnson, a neighbor to the Youngers, states “you mean you ain’t read ’bout them colored people that was bombed out their place out there?” (100).  It has not and is not uncommon for black people to be discriminated against solely due to the color of their skin, even if it is to the extent of resorting to violence. In the introduction of A Raisin in the Sun, Hansberry’s literary executor, Robert Nemiroff, also discusses real life examples of discriminatory violence. Nemiroff writes “we learned of a 1972 City Commissioner of Human Rights Report, citing eleven cases in the last eighteen months in which minority-owned homes had been set afire or vandalized, a church had been bombed, and a school bus had been attacked”-in New York City!)”, which shows attention to the severity of these actions (xii).  Hansberry uses Mrs. Johnson to help bring to light the dangers of moving to a new location, especially Clybourne Park, which is home to exclusively white families. According to Coates, “Chicago whites employed every measure, from “restrictive covenants” to bombings, to keep their neighborhoods segregated” (Coates, The Atlantic).

Through the character Mr. Lindner, Hansberry critiques white supremacy and the ways white families organized to try and keep their neighborhoods white. Mr. Lindner, a white man that is a member of Clybourne Park’s “welcoming committee”, is introduced in the second act of the play. It should be noted, that Hansberry uses the term “welcoming committee” sarcastically, as Mr. Lindner is not there to welcome the family to the neighborhood, rather to try and convince them to not move to Clybourne Park. Upon first meeting Mr. Lindner, the audience may be convinced that he has a kind and welcoming persona, however his true intentions are quickly brought to light. In many instances, Mr. Lindner refers to the white community of Clybourne Park as “our people”, and the Youngers and the rest of the black community as “you people”. For example, Mr. Lindner states “our association is prepared, through the collective effort of our people, to buy the house from you at a financial gain to your family” (118). Mr. Lindner represents the white people, not just of Clybourne Park, a fictional place, but real communities of exclusively white people. Mr. Lindner also states “I want you to believe me when I tell you that race prejudice simply doesn’t enter into it. It is a matter of the people of Clybourne Park believing rightly or wrongly, as I say, that for the happiness of all concerned that our Negro families are happier when they live in their own communities” (118). Though Mr. Lindner prefaces the statement by saying it has nothing to do with race, it very clearly does, and due to the discriminatory feelings that the members of Clybourne Park have, a conflict has begun before the Youngers have moved in.

Citizen by Claudia Rankine gives us multiple examples of how racist Americans can be. In addition to critiquing blatant forms of racial discrimination like police brutality against African Americans, Rankine highlights how acts of interpersonal racism can often be unintentional. We may say we’re not “racist” but we’ve become brainwashed to stereotypes it can be hard to not hold it against others. Citizen really focuses on how blind we have become to moments of racism; and makes us really think about how our actions affect others. Citizen is an american lyric, a lyric is “(of poetry) having the form and musical quality of a song, and especially the character of a songlike outpouring of the poet’s own thoughts and feelings, as distinguished from epic and dramatic poetry.” (dictionary.com) By writing in this style we are being challenged to think deeper and hear the truth. She is making an obvious point that racism in America is still thriving.  According to Rankine, “‘Poetry allows us into the realm of feeling, and it’s the one place where you can say ‘I feel bad,’ she says. In poetry, ‘feeling is as important as perception and description.’’’ (rpi.org) It is important to reflect on our behaviors and how we treat people, which this book allows us to do.

Microaggressions are common within this book. Dr. Derald Wing Sue from Psychology Today explains what a microaggression exactly means, “The everyday verbal, nonverbal, and environmental slights, snubs, or insults, whether intentional or unintentional, which communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative messages to target persons based on marginalized group membership” Rankine gives over a dozen incidents where microaggressions occur due to race. One example of it is, “At the end of a brief phone conversation, you tell the manager you are speaking with that you will come by his office to sign the form. When you arrive and announce yourself, he blurts out, I didn’t know you were black! I didn’t mean to say that, he then says” (44) The manager was out of line for what he had said. There was no reason for him to point out the color of her complexion. It makes you wonder if he had picked up that she was black on the phone, maybe it would’ve changed how he treated her.

In Rankine’s Citizen, we focus on the racism in tennis with Serena Williams. Tennis is often known as a “white” sport but Serena Williams is pure talent and is constantly proving this statement wrong. The amount of titles she has is unheard of but the amount of racism she has been faced with is questionable and unfair. There have been calls that have bee absurd and wrong because she is of color and if we think, would this happening to a white tennis player with such great talent as Serena William? The answer is no and it is unjust for race to be playing such a big factor in tennis and in America. Race is an issue throughout the world and here in our own backyard. All throughout literature we see race playing many factors and it is an issue we must overcome together in American Culture. Rankine sees Serena Williams as a hero for her commitment to tennis even though she is faced with racism on the court. For the whole of Serena’s career, she has continuously faced bad calls that have taken away wins for her. The first time you realize her fight against the tennis community is described, “In 2004 Alves was excused from officiating any more matches on the final day of the US Open after she made five bad calls against Serena in her quarterfinal matchup against fellow American Jennifer Capriati.” (26). Rankine makes it clear that the game is against her because she is black. It’s rare to see someone of color succeed at tennis which is typically a “white” sport. She proves racists wrong over and over again with her talent and resilience. Although she has to struggle through tough situations, she fights back and is willing to risk it all. She is one of the best tennis players to this day but that achievement is denied by some due to the color of her skin.

Reading and writing about race can help readers educate themselves and further understand the injustices that minorities have gone through and continue to go through. Works of literature such as Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun and Rankine’s Citizen, can both be tools to recognize racial discrimination and how people of different races are treated. Each work display characters who take pride in their race, discriminate against other races, and how each group of people navigate dealing with their own and other races. These books explore racism in America and how detrimental it is to society. After reading these books, people should learn from the mistakes previously made and better ourselves to live accepting and equal lives amongst all people.

Works Cited

Coates, Ta-Nehisi. “The Case for Reparations.” The Atlantic, Atlantic Media Company, 22 June 2018, www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2014/06/the-case-for-reparations/361631/.

Frassica, Matt. “Claudia Rankine’s ‘Citizen’ Shows What Racism Really Feels Like.” Public Radio International, 17 Aug. 2017, www.pri.org/stories/2017-08-17/claudia-rankine-s-citizen-shows-what-racism-really-feels.

Hansberry, Lorraine. A Raisin in the Sun; Robert Nemiroff, New York: Vintage Books, 1994.

“Race.” Dictionary.com, Dictionary.com, www.dictionary.com/browse/race.

“Race.” Merriam-Webster, Merriam-Webster, www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/race.

“Race.” Oxford English Dictionary , Oxford English Dictionary ,

www.ibproxy.cortland.edu:2267/view/Entry/157031?rskey=5HiSmJ&result=6&isAdvanced=false#eid

Rankine, Claudia. Citizen: an American Lyric. Penguin, 2015.

“Redlining Legal Definition.” Merriam-Webster, Merriam-Webster, www.merriam-webster.com/legal/redlining.

Glossary of Education Terms. adl.org.

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Gender

By: Christopher Hackett, Emily Brockway, Lauren Klee, Owen Pugh

For centuries, humans have tended to assign different roles in society, codes of behavior, and specific feelings and thoughts to men and women.  Gender is defined in several ways. In the Oxford English Dictionary, gender is defined as “a class of things or beings distinguished by having certain characteristics in common; (as a mass noun) these regarded collectively; kind, sort.” According to the ADL’s Glossary of Education terms, gender is “the socially-defined ‘rules’ and roles for men and women in society. The attitudes, customs, and values associated with gender are socially constructed; however, individuals develop their gender identities in two primary ways: through an innate sense of their own identity and through their life experiences and interactions with others. Dominant western society generally defines gender as a binary system—men and women—but many cultures define gender as more fluid and existing along a continuum.” In a definition from Dictionary.com, gender is also described as “a similar category of human beings that is outside the male/female binary classification and is based on the individual’s personal awareness or identity.” As time has continued, gender has extended past just a male and female binary. According to Etymonline.com, the word gender has referred to the social and biological qualities of males and females since the fifteenth century.  In 1963, a sense of genders social attributes as much as biological qualities came with feminist writing. We now recognize gender as a social construct that includes more than fifty genders besides male and female.

In every literary text that we read this semester, gender inequality is one of the several themes with every piece. When reading the word gender, people often think of humans who are of the male or female sex. Though there are several other genders, often times people revert to thinking of male and female. Throughout time, men mainly wrote texts but there still are female writers. Today, there are many more women writers than before. Literary texts help us learn about gender in several ways. If a text is speaking about the social norms of the male species, females would gain a better understanding of what males are going through. If a text is speaking about the social norms of the female sex, males would too gain a better understanding of what females are going through and experiencing. The two texts that show the usage of the term gender and/or gender inequality are The Woman Warrior and A Raisin in the Sun.

Kingston’s The Woman Warrior will help individuals see the struggles of gender inequality in Chinese culture. Though Kingson explains at the beginning of her memoir, the stories told are through her own perspective. She is just re-telling the stories. When reading about the author’s experience with gender inequality, the reader will place themselves in Kingston’s shoes and really grasp what it feels like to be in a culture with gender inequality.

Reading Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun can help individuals realize that gender inequality is a real and happening thing. Though the play takes place dating back to World War Ⅱ and follows through to the present day, women are still judged for wanting masculine jobs. Thinking about gender equality when reading this text can open the reader’s mind. They may be able to connect it to a real-life situation that they, the reader, have experienced in their own personal life.

The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts by Maxine Hong Kingston, invites readers into the life of one Asian-American writer. In this autobiography, Kingston uses the stories of unique women to provide readers with an understanding of the effects of gender and how it victimizes them by taking their voice. No-Name Woman, Kingston’s long-forgotten aunt, becomes a target for violence when the village turns on her for committing adultery. Moon Orchid, Kingston’s living aunt, tries to resume her marriage with her husband only to be rejected. Each of these stories is a representation of the gender-driven hardships that women experienced due to the hardships of the Chinese culture.  

For these women whose stories are presented through this memoir, we can see how within the Chinese tradition there are gender rules that limit their self-expression and their value. In the first chapter “No Name Woman”, also the name of her aunt, Kingston gives the reader the first story of a woman who is violated by the male-dominated Chinese culture and as an effect, commits suicide. Brave Orchid, who is Kingston’s mother, tells Kingston this story in an effort to maintain the family’s women’s history in which the men have the power to eliminate women from their families. She says, “You must not tell anyone … what I am about to tell you. In China, your father had a sister who killed herself. She jumped into the family well. We say that your father has all brothers because it is as if she had never been born” (1). When Kingston’s aunt’s husband and other male family members went to America, the aunt had been watched by the villagers eliminating her private life. Though watched very heavily, she was raped and given orders by both her husband and her rapist. They told her, “if you tell your family, I’ll beat you, I’ll kill you” (7). No Name Woman was to be there the following week, and she did exactly what he said. If she didn’t then she wouldn’t receive oil or wood from her rapist. Being silent became her best option because if she wasn’t, she wouldn’t have the resources to live a standard life in China. She told the man who raped her that she was pregnant and he organized the villagers to raid her home. In the memoir, Kingston talks about the commensal tradition. In which, “ food is precious, the powerful older people made wrongdoers eat alone” (7). Chinese, unlike the Japanese, “hung on to the offenders and fed them leftovers” (7).  They destroyed her home, her livestock, and dismantled her room. She ends up killing herself and the baby in the pigsty, in Kingston’s mindset to protect the child and the father. Kingston believes the villagers wrongfully convicted her aunt of adultery; the author suggests because the two men gave orders, she followed. In addition, Kingston adds, “she had almost forgotten what he looked like”, a result of sharing a diminutive amount of time with her husband before he departs for America (7). Her mother’s main purpose of this story isn’t just to inform her not to tell anyone about her aunt, but to warn her that “now that you have started to menstruate, what happened to her could happen to you” (5). As Kingston and her family are moving to America, she is told to not follow the steps of her aunt, but to be obedient to her father or she will have the same outcome as her aunt.

Another woman in The Woman Warrior, who has been affected by the limitation of their self-expression to male authority based on Chinese traditions is Moon Orchid. In the chapter “At Western Palace”, Kingston provides us with the story of how Moon Orchid is called by her older sister and Kingston’s mom, Brave Orchid, to come to America to reclaim her remarried husband.

After being stressed by Brave Orchid to go get her husband back after arriving in the States, her and Brave Orchid decide to go visit Moon Orchid’s husband. Instead of offering his wife a warm welcome into this new country, he asks her “what was she doing there” (152). She was speechless, just opening and shutting her mouth. She covered her face and remained silent, but Brave Orchid didn’t. She tells Moon Orchid’s displeasing husband that she wrote her every day and finally convinced her to come to America. This conversation with the Americanized husband demonstrates how incredibly voiceless a Chinese woman is by living in a traditional male dominating society. In a very low whisper, Moon Orchid said, “what about me”; he responded, “I have a new wife” (153). Later in the scene, Moon Orchid’s husband explains to her, “I have important American guests who come inside my house to eat. . . . You can’t talk to them. You can barely talk to me.” (153). Despite Moon Orchid’s continual talking in front of Brave Orchid’s children when she first visits, now she is completely mute while under the control of her husband. In all this madness, even after surviving her husband’s emotional abuse, Moon Orchid is unable to talk. Her husband has so much control over the life of Moon Orchid, that he even gives her instructions on what to do on her visit to America. He says,” I do not want her in my house. She has to live with you or with her daughter, and I don’t want either of you coming here anymore” (154). Moon Orchid did not say anything. For years she had been receiving money from him while he was in America. She never told him that she wanted to come to the United States. She waited for him to suggest it, but he never did  (124). This passage describing Moon Orchid’s passive actions are very similar to that of No Name Woman. Moon Orchid, a woman who desires to come to America, yet, in fear, refuses to speak up for what she desires. Her husband sending money home to China is his justification for his absence from the household. In contrast to No Name Woman’s story, this involves a man, who leaves his wife in China and finds a new wife in America. The difference between the two stories occurs when we find the villagers do not fault him for his unsuitable actions and his actions never bring disgrace upon his family living back in China.

Gender plays an important role within A Raisin in the Sun, by Lorraine Hansberry. The book depicts a black family living in Chicago during the 1950s. Their struggles are shown throughout the duration of the book as the family members battle through adversity and discrimination that was prevalent during that time period. Gender discrimination according to the Oxford English dictionary, is discrimination on grounds of sex or gender; sexual discrimination. The major character that faces gender discrimination throughout the book is Beneatha. Her goal to become a doctor is looked down upon by her family members, including her brother Walter. Walter explained to her that men normally hold the jobs of doctors, “ain’t many girls who decide to be a doctor” (Hansberry, 36). Due to her gender, Beneatha is immediately doubted.

Beneatha also faces gender discrimination when dealing with her boy interest George Murchison. When Beneatha decided to change her hairstyle, George didn’t even want to take her out on a date anymore, “what have you done to your head—I mean your hair!” (Hansberry, 80). Ruth also didn’t approve of Beneatha’s decision, going as far to say George didn’t have to take her out anymore if he didn’t want to: “Now that’s the truth—it’s what ain’t been done to it! You expect this boy to go out with you with your head all nappy like that?” (Hansberry, 80). Beneatha stays true to herself and responds to George by saying, “That’s up to you George. If he’s ashamed of his heritage— (Hansberry, 80). George and Ruth had a preconceived belief that women were supposed to look a certain way due to their gender and once Beneatha had a hairstyle that that wasn’t “normal”, people became upset and judgemental. Even after all of these instances in which Beneatha’s life is questioned solely based on her gender, she does not stray away from what she believes in and is passionate about.

In addition to Beneatha, Walter also battles inner demons related to his gender. Since Walter is the man of the house, he feels obligated to be the main provider for his family. However, while working at his current job as a limousine driver, he doesn’t feel like he is successful enough: “I drive a man around in his limousine and say, ‘Yes, sir; no, sir; very good, sir; shall I take the Drive, sir?’ Mama, that ain’t no kind of job… that ain’t nothing at all” (Hansberry, 73). Walter aspires to be the men that he currently works for. He doesn’t feel like he is fulfilling his masculine duty as a man of the house, and acts throughout the book to try and correct that. Walter faced an internal struggle based on the fact that he was as far along on the social ladder as he should be as a supporting father and husband. Walter felt pressured by the standards of modern day society to be successfully supporting his family as a male so that he wasn’t on the receiving end of gender discrimination from others in society. Beneatha faces gender discrimination externally by being looked down upon by her entire family and society.

Literature is one of our main resources to learn about and explore the ideas of gender. It is where we have mostly learned and spread the roles of gender and what society expects of each sex.

Works Cited

“Gender.” Dictionary.com. 2019. https://www.dictionary.com/browse/gender.

“Gender” OED Online, Oxford University Press, March 2019, www.oed.com/viewdictionaryentry/Entry/11125.

“Glossary of Education Terms.” Anti-Defamation League. 2017. https://www.adl.org/sites/default/files/documents/glossary-of-education-terms.pdf.

Hansberry, Lorraine. A Raisin in the Sun, First Vintage Books Edition, December 1994

Kingston, Maxine Hong. The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts. Knopf, 1976.

Culture

By: Mackenzie Kiely, Zach Dillion, and Daniel Lapp

According to Merriam and Webster, culture is defined as, “the customary beliefs, social forms, and material traits of a racial, religious, or social group.” Another definition from Merriam and Webster is, “the set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes an institution or organization.” Dictionary.com has a slightly different definition which is, “the quality in a person or society that arises from a concern for what is regarded as excellent in arts, letters, manners, scholarly pursuits, etc.” All of these definitions are different, but they all go back to the social aspect of life. An example under the first definition on Merriam and Webster is the features of everyday life and how we interact with each other in the same place and time. According to Google Ngram around 1940 the popularity of the word culture began to spike right around the time A Raisin in the Sun was written; the use of culture jumped up even more during the 1970s when a The Woman Warrior was written. Throughout both these books culture is seen in many different aspects and used throughout each book. In A Raisin in the Sun you see the African American culture get knocked down so much by whites, and even by other African Americans sometimes. You see this when George comes over to take Beneatha to the show and he is arguing with Beneatha about her new look. George says, “Let’s face it, baby, your heritage is nothing but a bunch of raggedy-assed spirituals and some grass huts” (Hansberry 81). In The Woman Warrior by Maxine Kingston, Brave Orchid constantly looks down on the American culture and thinks Americans are rude. When the children receive a gift from Moon Orchid, Brave Orchid says,  “How greedy to play with presents, in front of the giver” (Kingston 131). In A Raisin in the Sun and The Woman Warrior you see culture being brought up in one way or another.

In A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry, you see the Younger’s beliefs, race, and religion all challenged throughout the play. In the post World War II era being African American in America was a struggle. Many African Americans were brutally murdered and falsely prosecuted. They were lynched, murdered and were scared for their life. In A Raisin in the Sun you see this with the Younger family. They struggle to survive and work their way up the social ladder. Walter is a prime example of this; throughout the book Walter works himself crazy trying to get money to open a liquor store, and make a better life for his family. Walter is a personal driver who on a everyday basis sees the luxury in life, but he can not obtain that type of lifestyle due to the Younger’s race. The definition of culture from Merriam and Webster says that race is a trait of culture, and race plays a huge role throughout this play. Throughout the play you hear about bombings and other things that focus on whites treating African Americans poorly. A quote from the play to help back this up is when Mrs. Johnson says, “You mean you ain’t read ‘bout them colored people that was bombed out their place out there?” (Hansberry 100) Towards the end of the play the Youngers are presented with an opportunity to move out of their home, and into a better one in a predominantly white neighborhood. A man by the name of Mr. Lindner comes and pleads with them about taking a payment to not move in. Mr. Lindner says, “I sure hope you people know what you’re getting into” (Hansberry 149). This quote strictly is all about race and culture and the ignorance of white people; white people have tried their hardest to keep African Americans from prospering.

Culture is in every aspect of life.  It can be seen in the music we listen to, the clothes we wear and the books we read.  A piece of literature is often seen as a written piece of culture. Literature can carry on the stories and traditions of a culture for generations.  A reader can learn more about their own culture through literature, along with finding role models in their culture that they may not be able to find in mainstream media.  A culture can also be rediscovered because of literature. Finding old books and stories can bring light to cultures that may have been forgotten about over time. A reader can learn a lot about a culture just by reading a piece of literature.  For example, reading The Woman Warrior can teach a reader about old Chinese culture and American-Chinese culture.  A novel may also spark an interest in the reader and cause them to go on to read other texts surrounding the culture.  There is a hope that reading about other cultures can help readers understand and accept a culture in a way that media often doesn’t.  We live in a racist society today and reading something like A Raisin in the Sun has the potential for readers to reject the stereotypes they hear from the media.  The hope is that readers understand and sympathize with a culture, and fight back on any stereotypes the culture faces.  Culture in literature can help readers learn about cultures and help cultures flourish and continue on for generations.

In the book The Woman Warrior the author tells us two influenced stories. Two stories that are told by Kingston and her mother based on their cultural backgrounds. It’s important to understand that the story that Kingston’s mother is telling is so that Kingston continues a new great name and legacy for her family in America. For example, Kingston’s mother’s story begins with her telling her daughter about a woman who had ruined their family name. This is a story that her mother intends to be passed down through generations with her kid and her kid’s kid. Kingston states “In China, your father had a sister who killed herself. She jumped into the family well. We say that your father has all brothers because it is as if she had never been born” (Kingston 3). The mother goes on with the story to describe that her aunt had gotten pregnant after she had married, but it wasn’t by her husband. She insights us that the village had been counting down the days until the baby was born. When the baby was nearly born they raided their house because in their culture, they didn’t accept woman sleeping with other men. Kingston states “The villagers broke into the back doors. Their knives dripped with the blood of our animals. They smeared blood on our walls. […] Your aunt gave birth in the pigsty that night. The next morning when I went for water, I found her and the baby plugging up the family well”(Kingston 5). Due to the cultural identities that have been put on them for many centuries Kingston’s mother has described this event through her own perspective and experiences that she grew up on.  

Kingston growing up in a completely different culture, does not see the same way her mother see’s. Her mother, very caught up in her cultural ways and Kingston, very sympathetic, looks to defend her aunt’s honor with her own version of the story. Kingston starts off her story by hinting at cultural differences between her and her mother. Being Chinese and being American-Chinese is completely different in comparison to what is Chinese and what is Chinese tradition and what is made up. Kingston starts off her own version of her story by saying “the Chinese I know hide their names; sojourners take new names when their lives change and guard their real names with silence” (Kingston 5). Kingston means that the Chinese culture she knows through her mother, hide the names of the people that defied their cultural norms and create a brand new name, where people remember you for the good in your name and not the bad. She then introduces old China where woman had no say in their partner that they pick. Kingston says “woman in the old China did not choose. Some man had commanded her to lie with him and be his secret evil. I wonder whether he masked himself when he joined the raid on her family” (Kingston 6). Kingston also uses a strong quote, that really puts into perspective how old China really used to be.  Kingston states “the other man was not at all much different from her husband. They both gave orders: she followed. If you tell your family I’ll beat you. I’ll kill you. Be here again next week. No one talked sex, ever. And she might have separated the rapes from the rest of the living if only she had not had to buy her oil from him or gather wood in the same forest” (Kingston 7). These two quotes really tell the reader what old China’s culture used to be compared to America, where she is living now. She infers if the culture hadn’t been the men that had ruled everything, her poor aunt wouldn’t have been raped and forced to kill her baby and commit suicide. Every culture is different, and along with every different culture comes different views and beliefs. The Woman Warrior by Maxine Kingston is a great example of two different cultures being presented that influence the outcomes of each other’s stories.

Culture is seen throughout A Raisin in the Sun and The Woman Warrior in many different ways. Culture can be expressed through art, beliefs, values and race; in both of these pieces of literature you see just that. Culture is very important because it helps us see where we came from and why we practice the things we do, without culture we wouldn’t know our past. Culture in literature can help carry on a culture through generations and help us learn more about our own cultures and others.

Works Cited:

“culture, n.” Dictionary.com. https://www.dictionary.com/browse/culture

“culture, n.” Merriam-Webster. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/culture

Hansberry, Lorraine. A Raisin in the Sun, First Vintage Books Edition, December 1994

Kingston, Maxine Hong. The Woman Warrior; Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts, Vintage International Edition, 1989.

Photo by Vitaliy Lyubezhanin on Unsplash

Ghosts

By: Taylor Karaqi, Savannah Pearson, and Madeleine Grobelny

Ghosts are a common sight in literature. This is because ghosts play at least three important roles. Ghosts convey certain emotions, such as the happiness of a passed partner or sibling, the love of a mother, the protected and safe feeling of a father, or the complete opposite depending on how an author depicts their ghost. Ghosts also stir up memories and suggests that our loved ones are always with us, even in death. But the existence of ghosts in any sense originates from the age old need to convince ourselves that there is something beyond death’s cold embrace, that we do not simply cease to exist in an instant. Ghosts are also used to scare children into believing something or impart wisdom and reason on those who do not listen.

Ghost as a noun defined through the oxford english dictionary contains multiple definitions and five of these definitions are correspondent to The Woman Warrior and Mean:

  1. The spirit, or immaterial part of man, as distinct from the body or material part; the seat of feeling, thought, and moral action. Also, in New Testament language, the spirit n.   or higher moral nature of man; opposed to flesh. Obsolete except in nonce-uses.
  2. A person. Cf. the similar use of soul n., spirit n.
  3. An incorporeal being; a spirit. local ghost: = Latin genius loci. Obsolete.
  4. The soul of a deceased person, spoken of as inhabiting the unseen world. In later use only = manes n.; sometimes in plural. Obsolete.
  5. The soul of a deceased person, spoken of as appearing in a visible form, or otherwise manifesting its presence, to the living. (Now the prevailing sense.)

The Etymology of ghost according to etymonline.com is that the word began with Old English and biblical use in particular, “Old English gast “breath; good or bad spirit, angel, demon; person, man, human being,” in Biblical use “soul, spirit, life” . . .” The word ghost began its use as some form of supernatural being from West Germanic, “Ghost is the English representative of the usual West Germanic word for “supernatural being”. . .  [the] Sense of “disembodied spirit of a dead person,” especially imagined as wandering among the living or haunting them, is attested from late 14c. and returns the word toward its likely prehistoric sense. . .The gh- spelling appeared early 15c. in Caxton, influenced by Flemish and Middle Dutch gheest, but was rare in English before mid-16c.”  (etymonline.com) It is interesting that the original Old English form of the word has multiple meanings and has over time lessened to the most popular definition of a visible supernatural apparition. The being in which was chosen to be the representation for the Old English definition means the ghost as a spirit, demon, man or even vaguely a person is what modern literature and film capitalize on. Much of the media surrounding ghosts uses them to elicit certain feelings within the audience in the way both The Woman Warrior and Mean intend to.

The Woman Warrior and Ghosts

In The Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston, ghosts are used to represent both the unknown, and a fear of the past, meaning fear of repercussions that occurred in past events can influence future behaviors. Kingstons memoir explores the concept of ghosts through a series of stories pertaining to the narrator’s life along with those the narrator interacts with. The most influential story told by the narrator is one about an aunt no one discusses due to her impregnation by a man other than her husband, which ruins the family’s reputation. This backlash, against the aunt whom the narrator presumes to have been raped, makes her kill her newborn baby and herself in the family well as a “spite suicide, drowning herself in the drinking water” (Kingston, 16). The narrator uses the definition of “a person”, the aunt being the subject, and another definition, “The soul of a deceased person, spoken of as inhabiting the unseen world” (oxford english dictionary).

The family would rather the aunt be treated as if she had never been born and leave her unspoken of as a form of punishment even after the raid the villagers partook in to punish the aunt, “Her betrayal so maddened them, they saw to it that she would suffer forever, even after death” (16). Because the story was neglected for so many years, and the silence concerning the aunt almost fully erased her as a part of the family’s history, the narrator had punished her as well by not speaking of the story for years.  Kingston writes about never asking for any details. or even asking the aunts name, which continues to punish the aunt. When the narrator decides to finally speak of her, she tells on the aunt in a way, “My aunt haunts me– her ghost drawn to me because now, after fifty years of neglect. . . I do not think she always means me well, I am telling on her” (16). The family’s refusal to acknowledge the aunt as a way to punish her in death coincides with the punishment of talking about the ending of her life without knowing any more than the surface details the narrator was told.

The fear of the unknown and the past arises when the narrator states, “The Chinese are always very frightened of the drowned one, whose weeping ghost, wet hair hanging and skin bloated, waits silently by the water to pull down a substitute.” (16) This visible apparition of the aunt would arouse fear in those she chose to gruesomely display herself for. Ghosts are a recurring motif in the novel, representing fear and the unknown. They are mainly shunned by humans, and relate to the overall theme of storytelling. Many of the stories told in the novel involve ghosts, such as the narrator’s aunt who was shunned by her family and displaying herself forces acknowledgement of how unfair her life was and continues to be.

Ghosts are also used to describe people and their occupations, “Then, without noticing her family, Moon Orchid walked smiling over to the Suitcase Inspector Ghost, who took her boxes apart, pulling out puffs of tissue” (117). Here, the security/ TSA checking Moon Orchid’s bags is described as “suitcase inspector ghost” (117). Despite not being an actual ghost, and rather a working person of society, he represents a moral character as he is doing his job and making sure of no potential danger of the airport. Without an implication of the ghost being moral or not, the  recurring motif is observable in the chapter “Shaman” where Brave Orchid comes face to face with a ghost in order to prove her bravery to her roommates and friends.

“Wall Ghost and Frog Spirit” (65), are examples of the abundance of ghosts utilized in the novel, with each ghost representing a person or a thing. The narrator utilizes ghosts to put a label on things unfamiliar to her, or even American people. The abundance of ghosts is apparent in each chapter as the narrator involves them frequently in her narrations. Brave Orchid, the narrator’s mother, is confronted by the ghost Boulder on pages 67-75, in her college dormitory. She courageously lures it out by volunteering to spend the night in the school’s haunted room; telling her friends that she wants to prove there are no ghosts. Once Boulder arrives, she voluntarily faces it, alone. She wards him off, proving her strength and courage.

Mean and Ghosts

Mean by Myriam Gurba contains conversation regarding meanness, sexual assault, and ghosts through the life of the narrator. The narrator and a woman, named Sophia Torres, unfortunately share having the same man sexually assault them and this intertwines the women’s lives in both life and death. Within the first chapter, Gurba uses the word ghost as she opens the book imagining how Sophia Torres was assaulted and killed after being raped. Sophia is compared to a ghost of guilt and later on Gurba continues to assert that ghosts use the living for emotions and even action  Sophia is imagined as, “always with me [the narrator]. She haunts me. Guilt is a ghost,” which opens up the claim of her ghost containing a “seat of feeling” (Gurba, 3). Attesting that ghosts use the living, Gurba continues, “Some ghosts listen to the radio through the bodies of the living. They use us to conduct pain, pleasure, music, and meaning. They burden us with feelings that are both ours and theirs” (Gurba, 3). This statement aligns with the definition of, “the seat of feeling, thought . . . ” as ghosts project and manipulate feelings of the living.

Much later Gurba uses ghost again but instead of referring to a literal ghost she speaks on a memory of a person, “Her absence was haunting the house, and I didn’t want to be there. I ran away from her ghost.” (53) The absence of the person and yet her unseen presence of the house combines two definitions of, “A person” and, “The soul of a deceased person, spoken of as inhabiting the unseen world. . .” (Oxford English Dictionary) While she is indeed talking about a living person, the prolonged period of this person’s absence makes them feel like a memory rather than a still existing person. And so the feeling of absence turns the person into a ghost in the narrator’s life.

Gurba repeats the phrase “guilt is a ghost” more than once in her work, Mean. After getting caught partying on the grave of Sophia, the narrator says, “Guilt is a ghost. Guilt interrupts narratives. It does so impolitely. Ghosts have no etiquette. What do they need it for? There is no Emily Post for ghosts” (55). This use of ghost can be drawn to the definitions “the seat of feeling, thought, and moral action. Also, in New Testament language, the spirit n.   or higher moral nature of man; opposed to flesh” (Oxford English Dictionary) and “the spirit, or immaterial part of man, as distinct from the body or material part” (Oxford English Dictionary). In this instance, ghost is firstly addressed as a memory or a feeling rather a material being. Then about halfway through the quote the narrator starts to use ghost in its literal sense of a spirit. In doing so the narrator is first telling us that she feels guilty about partying on graves but quickly dismissed her own feelings with the excuse that ghosts have no etiquette of their own so she should feel nothing for lacking etiquette herself.

The narrator always quite often refers to caucasian people by the term ghost as seen in this quote, “I still hang out with white girls. I still hang out with ghosts.” (Gurba, 60) This usage of ghost uses the definition “a person” (Oxford English Dictionary) and appropriately uses the term to refer to people she spends her time with.

Conclusion

The ability to convey emotions, stir up memories, and suggest that our loved ones are always with us, allows the word ghost to influence the relationship readers have with literature. In The Woman Warrior, ghosts are used as symbols to represent a plethora of things and people through the narrator’s eyes. She uses the term ghost to represent people and things that are unknown or unfamiliar to her, as well as people whose stories could never be told, such as her own aunt’s. Ghosts in literature assess the reality of people’s relationships and interactions with others. Rather than describing people she doesn’t know as simply people, she utilizes the term ghost to describe them, which accentuates her feelings towards the unknown.

In Mean, similar usages of ghosts can be seen throughout the book. However the narrator also uses ghosts to show that she not only sees death and those that have passed but she fears them as well. Ghosts are used as name to call the American’s around her at the same time that she speaks of Sophie’s spirit and those of other deceased people she encounters under the same name. She uses ghosts to convey that she fears death in some sense but she is no stranger to it. In a way as she learns to accept the ghosts she sees she has become “friends with death”. In yet another plethora of instances she uses ghosts as a symbol to convey emotions sure as loss and emptiness in the absence of a person. By not outrightly telling us about the absence of her friend she gave the story depth and the ability to be interpreted as the reader sees fit. This allows for the reader to feel not simply read.

Works Cited

“ghost, n.” OED Online, Oxford University Press, March 2019, www.oed.com/view/Entry/78064. Accessed 2 May 2019.

Gurba, Myriam. Mean. Coffee House Press, 2017.

Kingston, Maxine H. The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Childhood among Ghosts. Vintage, 1989.

“Online Etymology Dictionary | Origin, History and Meaning of English Words.” Online Etymology Dictionary | Origin, History and Meaning of English Words, www.etymonline.com/.

Adventures in Worldmaking Extra Credit Opportunity

On April 30th, I attended the Adventures in Worldmaking ExtraCredit event which contained several speeches and essay from graduate students here at SUNY Cortland. The graduate students were from two different classes and they spoke about the worthy had done thus far in the semester. Dr. Kim Stone from the African Bildungrgrsoman had students from her graduate class present books they had read during the semester. The second group to present was from Dr. Savonick’s graduate class Feminist Worldmaking. Each student presented project that they had been working on throughout this semester. 

Dr. Kim Stone’s African Bildungrgrsoman graduate students presented first and they all read papers they had written about a book they read for the class. The books that they read were African coming of age books and this is primarily what African Bildungrgrsoman means. Throughout the presentation, there was pattern in what these books were about and what the course was about. All of the papers focused on the main characters another struggle in life to find their place in life and struggling to cope with their cultures. The characters came from different parts of Africa with different backgrounds but all shared the same conflict. Some of the books that were presented were Nervous Conditions, The Small Island, and Americana. All of the characters int these books shared a common theme of struggle for educational opportunities and finding themselves within their own culture. 

Dr. Savonick’s Feminist Worldmaking students had presented their assignments that they had been working on for the semester. It was very interesting in seeing the graduate work they had been doing and it was a great insight into the future. The first student to present focused on transgentles, followed by a presentation on a collage that a student had made, and the final presentation was an interactive activity where the audience received a sheet with questions and this engaged the audience into the presentation. All of the presentations were very interesting and there was a range in different types ofppoject which made this very interesting. Each student had come up with different issues and topics and expressed thermal in different ways. 

This extra credit opportunity was very interesting and it was a great indicator into what the future holds and a bit of insight into graduate level work. It was most definitely worth the time to go and see these great presentations. It was clear to the audience that these graduate students had truly cared about their work and it was clear that they had put much timed effort into their presentations. 

Graduates Presentations

On April 30th I had attended the extra credit opportunity called Adventures in Worldmaking. This extra credit opportunity was a series of eight different presentations from two different classes of undergraduate students. Each of these undergraduates students had presented on work that they have done throughout the semester. The first group of graduates students from Dr. Kim Stone class “African Bildungsroman” presented on books they had read throughout the semester. The second set of presentations was from Dr. Danica Savonick class “Feminist Worldmaking”. The graduate students from her class had presented on assignments that they had created throughout the year. 

I had took a particular interest in Dr. Danica Savonick class presentations. All of the presentations they had created were very fun and creative. Each student had developed a project based on their own likes and creativeness. The first presentation was about transgentles, the second presentation was a woman who made collages, the third presentation was on Exquisite Corpse and the final presentation was on a well thought out english class that she had created that minced Professor Savonick’s classroom. 

I think the Presentations were well thought out presentations, but two really stood out to me, the collages, and exquisite corpse. The Collages were every person in her class including herself’s manifestos. She had connected herself with all her collages and her classmates to ones identity. She displayed different pictures  on the bored as she went on with her presentation that connected her different manifestos that had allowed her to become the witch she is today. I think this presentation really had stuck out to me because it was very different than the others and it was very sentimental to her. In her collages she had put her dogs hair all over the collages because the week before she had put it all together her dog had got diagnosed with cancer. so I think for her the presentation that she gave on the 30th of April was more than just a presentation. The second presentation that I had loved was on exquisite corpse. This woman had a very interesting, fun activity that she created all by herself. She had created a work sheet for her class that was 7 questions long. You create a narrative or a world that you wanna live in, like what type of government you want and where you want to live. Each student has two minuets for one question and then you pass the paper so that 7 different people create one world. 

This extra credit event was a very unique way to demonstrate what you have worked for and created throughout the whole semester. If gave the graduates the opportunity to present something that was special to them in they own unique way. This was my first presentation I’ve been to here a SUNY cortland and it definitely makes me want to attend more.