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/.

Black Lives Only Matter If They Are Taken by Whites

I made my found poem based off of an article made by a black man named Armstrong Williams. His argument was that black on black crime has less media coverage but white on black crime is frequently discussed. He questions reactions to violence against African Americans and how the majority of the time it is shallow- as only white on black crime stirs everyone into a frenzy, not actual concern over other realities woven into the black reality. His questioning of whether black lives matter if taken by other black lives was misinterpreted by the white people who had the utmost knowledge to comment. Black reality is often marred by violence, poverty, and other struggles, and those who commented failed to understand that violence within the community is perpetrated by these struggles- not by race, is why the coverage is reduced for black on black violence. Racism has profit for the privileged (white people) and this lack of privilege (for black people) is why white on black CRIME is covered more intensely. White on white violence is not always covered either, but finding a loophole for an “all lives matter” viewpoint is important for those attempting to keep privilege at the expense of others rather than evening privilege out.

Two comments by men named “Ken” and “Stanley Thornburgh” were what irritated me the most. The point I previously stated for why coverage for same race violence isn’t as frequent, was apparently incomprehensible for both men. The men stuck to an “all lives matter” p.o.v., subtly dismissing and ostracizing BLM along with the message Armstrong was attempting to convey. I took both of the comments and made conversation on phrases I felt were racist. I made a draft of the style I wished to portray through superscripted words, line spacing, and overlayed words. I wanted to portray how the conversations happening through the article and comments carry missed points, subtle conflicts and can even seem to talk over one another in the misunderstanding of action. I also kept formatting in font and size from the article and comments- which is why some words are larger, lighter or even a different color from the ones before them.

Signing a self-made Emancipation Proclamation

In Act III of A Raisin in the Sun, by Lorraine Hansberry, there is a particular development of Walter Younger’s character that struck me. Throughout the play, Walters high strung character has brought misogyny, anxiety and contempt with the use of particular language chosen by Hansberry to illustrate how childish he is, even though he attempts to claim manhood in every scene. To decompose and analyze some of the language and relate it outwards to Martin Luther King Jr, we can see the parallels between how Walter is presented and how MLK speaks on manhood. Act III contains Walters breakdown about money, and how he attempts to solve the issue of himself losing it by having Lindner come back to pay the family off of the recently bought house.

When discussing the plans he constructed for getting the money from Lindner, he tells Ruth, Beneatha and Mama, “I’m going to feel fine, Mama. I’m going to look that son-of-a-bitch in the eyes and say and say, “All right, Mr. Lindner that’s your neighborhood out there! You got the right to keep it like you want! You got the right to have it like you want! Just write the check and the house is yours…” (pg. 144) This breakdown begins with using appraising language to talk about “you”- the “you” being the white community. By using the words you/your, and phrases such as, “you got the right to have it like you want”, and “the house is yours” in reference to something the Younger’s currently own, Walter is relinquishing his ownership of himself to the white community in Clybourne Park. The reasoning behind considering those statements more of ownership of person rather than home is because the statements are followed by condemning conversation concerning black people. Walter continues, “And- and I am going to say- “And you- you people just put the money in my hand and you won’t have to live next to this bunch of stinking niggers!… And maybe- maybe I’ll just get down on my black knees…”Captain, Mistuh, Bossman,  A-hee-hee-hee! Oh, yassuh boss! Yasssssuh! Great white- Father, just gi’ ussen de money, fo’ God’s sake, and we’s- we’s ain’t gwine come out deh and dirty up yo’ white folks neighborhood…” (He breaks down completely) And I’ll feel fine! Fine! FINE!” (pg. 144) The first and only time the n-word is stated in the play is in this quote, and Walter uses the -er ending on the word as well as using improper grammar and references to a master to emphasize himself as a begging slave.

The only time Walter is seen as a man is when Lindner arrives and he tells Lindner that the Youngers will be moving into Clybourne Park- taking some responsibility in the family by showing himself to be a father for Travis. “Travis, come here. (TRAVIS crosses and WALTER draws him before him facing the man) This is my son, and he makes the sixth generation our family in this country. And we have all thought about your offer… And we have decided to move into our house because my father my father he earned it for us brick by brick…“ (pg. 148)  Mama and Ruth have a short conversation right before the last curtain in which Mama states, “He finally come into his manhood today, didn’t he? Kind of like a rainbow after the rain…” (pg. 151) Martin Luther King Jr. was a prominent figure in the civil rights movements and had stated, “I come here tonight to plead with you: Believe in yourself, and believe that you’re somebody!… I said to a group last night, nobody else can do this for us. No document can do this for us. Not even an Emancipation Proclamation can do this for us… If the negro is to be free, he must move down into the inner resources of his own soul and sign with a pen and ink of self-assertive manhood his own Emancipation Proclamation.” Walter was freed from his childish antics in a way when he spoke to Lindner on page 148- and emancipated himself from a boy to a man. He applied himself in the first and only mature manner in which he was depicted throughout the play by denying the money offered by Lindner. The parallel between Walters language and actions, along with MLK’s take on manhood and how it effects the freedom someone owns over themselves was striking to me within the last few pages of the play.

Discussion questions:

What other words or phrases on pages 142-151 in particular, give insight to Walters inner turmoil, and the reflections of himself that are painted within those words?

Throughout the play, Walters character seems undeveloped in maturity and holds other negative qualities as well. What statements in Act III contradict those negative qualities and show character growth?

Savannah’s Intro

My name is Savannah Pearson and I am from Staten Island, New York. I was previously a psychology major but have recently switched to being an English major. I have a four-year-old little brother who drives me insane, but he’s also really cute so I can never actually get mad at him. I really like going to school at Suny Cortland and i’m very outgoing, so meeting new people is always fun for me.