My Story by Yash Ere Singh

My name is Yash, Yash Ere Singh is my whole name, but please just call me Yash. I come from Moolathara Village in southern India. It is in the Palakkad District, in the state of Kerala. Kerala is no doubt where you have heard of, but I have never been there, in fact I have never in my nineteen years left my village. I was a rice farmer in Moolathara. I was, but I am no longer. My family has lived on the land here, in a small house among the paddies, for many generations. When I was a boy I would help in the harvests, and planting of the rice. I would hand my mother, or brother, seeds as they nestled them into small mounds of soil below the thin layer of water in the flooded fields. As I grew older my father and grandfather taught me to build the minor embankments around the paddies to hold in the water which we flooded them with. In rice farming the water is the most important element. It is the life of the rice plants, what they drink in order to grow. Without it they die. Like me, the water is their life source, and death. We farmed rice where I live in southern India because the rains here were hard, and there is much water deep down in the soil. There was, anyway.

My favorite time was the harvest. This had to be timed between the rains. We got to use big rounded blades called scythes, and cut the rice stalks at their base. I was not allowed to do this till I was older though. I would collect the stalks and put them in piles. Later we would take handfuls of the stalks and beat the tops, the rice pods, onto a metal screen tilted at a 45 degree angle, above a tarp. The rice would fall through the mesh onto the tarp. We collected it in this way. Later we spread the rice out on the road to dry, and let the winds blow away the chaff and other light material of the rice that flaked off. We swept the rice around throughout the day to encourage more chaff to fall off, until after a few days we collected it up and it was ready for selling. My real favorite part was what we did with the stalks. We put them in big piles in the fields and burned them. The flames were big and powerful. Even at a distance the heat that came off the piles was incredible, and the pillars and plumes of black smoke that twisted into the air, and up to the unknown, never failed to hold my attention and imagination. I wonder if I saw them today if I would be transported back to the awe of my youth? Or if now I am too hard and cold to feel the wonder that I did back then?

My family was, me, my mother and father, my grandfather (my father’s father), my older brother Rut, and my younger sister Abi. We were not a rich family, but we got by. Our house was in the middle of our paddy as I said. We had a few papaya and coconut trees, some ponds with fish, and a small garden built on raised beds of soil. Really my house was build around the water, or should I say within it. When the rains came everything got wet, so we had to build raised areas for us to live on, and paths to travel on when walking around farm. Our primary source of income was from rice. My brother did get into politics, but that was not till later. My brother is only a few years older than me, so we, my sister included, were all in school. This was still ten years ago in 1993, when Coca-Cola was just moving in. They began building their factor on the edge of town, but since we also were on the edge of town, we were quite close and could see the factory in the distance. Sometimes I would sneak out to the fence that surrounded it and wonder what secrets lay inside. Many in my village went to work for Coca-Cola when they were building, and later, in the factory. In this way many thought Coca-Cola was a friend, to give so much work to our village. But not my father, he said they would hurt us.

I was nine when the Coca-Cola factor moved into my town. There was a vote as to whether they were allowed in , but my father said it didn’t matter, the local government was getting paid by Coca-Cola, so they would be allowed to build. I was young and I was excited. I said YES to Co-kah, as we called it. On special occasions my mother bought me the sweet beverage, and I loved it. It was a great treat. So in my child mind I assumed that when they moved in next door they would share Coca-Cola with me, like all neighbors share and trade what they have with each other. I figured they would be a part of our community, in this positive, sharing way, of which I understood community. They did share with us, but it was not bottles of Co-kah, it was the waste[i] from the process of making their many sodas.

In the years that followed Coca-Cola’s moving to my village, many bad things happened. It was a slow process but the signs were always there. The factory was surrounded by a strange smell. It smelled burnt, but also mixed with chemicals and sweet at the same time. My mother said she knew the smell, she said when she was a girl her brother had gotten injured and lost his leg. She said it was the smell that came from his sick leg as it slowly died; gangrene.  But I don’t think this was accurate. When you smell dying, infected flesh, you know it is bad, but the smell that came from the factory was both good and bad. It would be like covering my uncles dying leg in sugar and baking it.

There was also a stream that came out of the factory. It was very dirty. We were told to stay away from it because we would get sick if we played in it. One boy did, Maagh, a boy a few years younger than me who I went to school with. He played in the runoff often, and then one day he did not come to school. At first I thought it would just be for a little while, but he never came back. Something went wrong inside body, and his organs stopped working[ii]. He died after a few months. The river was blamed for his death, and we were even more afraid of it; everyone avoided it at all costs. But my father said we could not avoid the stream, that it was seeping into the soil and that we were all drinking it because it was going into our water. He said he could taste it. Some people said there were holes in the earth inside the factory fence, that were filled with the same sludge as in the stream. My father was right, but at the time he did not know the science behind it. Our whole town was connected by and aquifer that lay beneath us and held all our water. Many of us had wells, and there was a big one in the center of the village. These wells tapped into the aquifer, and yes we later learned from studies done by concerned people like my brother, that Coca-cola was contaminating the whole aquifer.[iii]

There was also something worse than the contamination that Coca-Cola was doing to our water. They were using too much of it[iv]. In my traditions we have a kind of connection with nature. We know that it gives us life so we take from it sparingly so it will not get mad and go away from us. We looked at the water as a present from the gods. The rains that came, enabled us to grow our rice and quench the thirst of ourselves and our animals. When the rains did not come we believed it was because we had angered the gods. After Coca-Cola came, the gods became angry. The rains began to slow and drought came to us.

As the years past I grew into a man. I was married to Kavisha, my neighbor’s daughter. We tried to start a family of our own, but Kavisha could not get pregnant. Maybe it was because of the sickness in the land, and a chemical I have heard mentioned called DDT[v]. I became very poor too. My father’s lands dried up. Water would not come, and so rice would not grow. My sister had died also, over the course of a few years. The doctors did not know why she got sick, but we all knew it was from the chemicals coming out of the Coca-Cola factory. After my brother became a politician, he would show us facts of how Coca-Cola was illegally drawing too much water from the earth. That they had made six huge wells that stole 1.5 million liters of water a day[vi]. He said they were running their factory in ways not mandated by the government. He said that Coca-Cola saw the water as money. That they stole it and then resold it. He said the water belonged to the people and that the factory took more than their fair share. This was my brother’s view though. I agreed that Coca-Cola was taking too much, but I did not care for his political ways. I thought he overcomplicated it. I believed nature and I were one. I did not think water was a legal right, I thought that the water and the earth were my family. When we lived in harmony, life flowed more smoothly. The gods were happy. Nature and I shared the same gods, and we were gods by the same respect. This is what I believed, but I don’t think about my beliefs very often anymore. For me there was also the reality of my situation in front of me. So I did what I could to get by. When we could no longer grow rice, I went to work for Coca-Cola.

I worked in the shipping department at Coca-Cola, stacking the heavy crates into trucks to be hauled away. Millions of bottles of that sweet liquid I craved as a child, went through my hands every day. The company sees these bottles of sugar water as a commodity to make profit by, but I see the soda as the water of life I once knew, dirtied by their process. I read once that it takes nine liters of clean water to manufacture a liter of Coca-Cola[vii]. I would rather have the nine bottles of water. I did not want these bottles of soda, I did not want to drink them. I only wanted water. But sometimes I did drink Co-kah because there was no water to drink. My brother showed me a letter[viii] Coca-Cola had written in response to his colleagues official complaint to them. It said they had set up rainwater harvesting ponds which held 27 million liters of water. I believed it too. The factory was huge, and in it somewhere was enough water to flood my father’s rice field. And the fields of our neighbors. In it was enough water to fill the town’s wells which now held a thin layer of silt filled water at their bottoms. Somewhere in the factory was enough water for me to fill up an empty coke bottle and bring it home to my wife.

So this is where my story ends. My father is not the man he once was. He is old and angry, he drinks rice wine and yells. He does very little with his time. My mother is much the same. She has retreated from life. She sits in our house, in a kind of daze. She helps Kavisha with housework, but there is not much to do, because there are not many living in my house anymore. My father and mother watch a lot of TV now, sitting next to each other not speaking. My brother tries to change the world. He wants to make India a better place, and he want to fix the wrongs that have been committed to our village, and to others like it. He knows the water is key to fixing our problems, but he only sees it as tool. He lives in the city now, and drinks water from bottles. He sends money home to us sometimes. But it is not money that we need, it is purpose. We, my father and I, my family and ones like it, we need to go back to the past. We need our hands in the earth. Wet hands, our feet suctioning in the mud as we plant rice. We need to work, backs bent—hard work. We need the days before harvest, watching the sky, deciding when the rains will come, and when there will be respite from them to let our rice dry. Now there is only respite from the rains. I need to go back to being to that kid watching the flames roar over cut rice stalks, and the black smoke twisting into the sky. But we cannot go back to the past, so on my walk to work, I stare at the silver pillars which protrude from the Coca-Cola factory, and now and then I see thin white smoke wafting up into the air. It is not the same, but it is better than nothing.

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[i] Vandana, Shiva (2006). “Coke Pepsi and the Politics of Food Safety.” Z Space. Retrieved from:  http://www.zcommunications.org/space/viewCommentaryPrint/2690.

[ii] (See i). The effects of exposure to this waste are not fully documented, but it contains high amounts of Cadmium and Lead. “Cadmium has the potential to cause effects like kidney dysfunction, damage to bone, liver and blood. lead affects the central nervous system, kidney, blood and cardio-vascular system” (Vandana 2006).

[iii] Vendana, Shiva (2005). “India: Soft Drinks, Hard Cases.” Mindfully.org. Retrieved from:  http://www.midfully.org/water/2005/India-Coca-Cola-Pepsi12mar05.htm.

[iv] (see i and iii).

[v] (see vi)

[vi] Office of the Perumatty  (2003, September 18). “Panchayat Letter to Coca-Cola.” Message posted to:  http://www.pbs.org/now/transcript/transcript_perumattyletter.html.

[vii] (see iii).

[viii] Coca-Cola India (2003, November 5). “Response from Coca-Cola India.” Message posted to:  http://www.pbs.org/now/transcript/transcript_cocacolaletter.html

I wrote this essay, but it doesn’t fit the assignment well enough…scrapped.

Homeless At Home

            The beginning of large scale Asian immigration into the United States started around the 1850’s, but their reception was unlike that of fellow white immigrants, instead they faced huge quantities of racism, lower wages and a lack of belonging. The latter of these struggles will be illustrated here as a sense of homelessness among Asians in America, which will be defined within the essay. The 1957 limited release of John Okada’s book No-No Boy will be used to diagram the lack of home many Asians felt, even when America was their home country, and through it will be a window into the struggles they underwent, specifically those of Japanese Americans just after WWII and the nationwide internment imposed upon them in America.

No-No Boy begins with the main character Ichiro’s return home from a two year sentence in prison for refusing his draft into the army during WWII. He returns to hatred from fellow Japanese who had served among the hatred of other races; he returns to a family shattered by the internment and a lack of national identity; he returns to a new home, a small store cramped with poverty, which he can scarcely call home. For Ichiro there is no home, not physically or mentally. Ichiro is representative of many Japanese Americans at the time, and the Asian American experience in this country for many years.

A close reading of one quote from the book will take primary focus in this essay, as it details this idea of homelessness better than any other. The focused of the quote is not literal though, it is metaphorical and nightmarish. Rather than describing something that happened to Ichiro, it is instead a description of what is happening inside of him.

From [a] sublime depth, a stranger awakens to strain his eyes into focus on the walls of a strange room. Where am I? he asks himself. There is a fleeting sound of lonely panic as he juggles into order the heavy, sleep-laden pieces of his mind’s puzzle. He is frightened because the bed is not his own. (Okada 39)

Looking closely at the words used, the quote begins with “from a sublime depth.” Sublime here means coming from a place of great awe, but scientifically it can also relate to a substance changing state from solid directly to gas, or visa-versa. This requires intense conditions to support the metamorphosis, and metaphorically it implies the encroaching forces put on Ichiro’s world. As the many challenges are put on him, he becomes a lost spirit without anything solid to hold him down. The next idea we are given is of a stranger waking. Strange is repeated twice in this one sentence to give it emphasis—stranger in a strange room. Ichiro is just that, a stranger in his country which has forsaken him, in his family which has lost its unity, and in his own life which has lost purpose. This is seen in the next line when he asks himself “Where am I?”. Being lost which he is clearly feeling in this fantasy, reflects his outer self as lost as well. The next sentence is filled with words that describe that loss of self: “fleeting”; “panic”; “juggles”; “sleep-laden”; and “pieces of his mind’s puzzle”. These are all great descriptions of the confusion in his mind and senses; the feeling of blurry sleep burdened eyes; sound quickly vanishing; the disorientation of the brain like an unfinished puzzle. Ichiro can find no place in the world, the last sentence here shows his fear of that: “frightened”…”because the bed is not his own”. The “bed” deserves very specific attention. Beds are where we sleep, where we are able to relax, heal and restore our health and strength. Beds are most associated with home, they are private, in our living space, in our rooms, they are the sacred space to be shared with loved ones, with a wife, with a child, with a brother or sister. When this sentences says a “bed” not his own, what it is saying is that he has no home. To be in the bed of someone else is to be in the home of someone else as well. The words used in this sentence very clearly map out Ichiro’s homelessness on a mental level.

Why Ichiro is homeless in America is a big question. The answer is a number of factors, all stemming from his ethnicity. Racism is the simple answer, it’s cause and effect. External and internal racism is the longer answer. Though Japanese internment plays very heavily into Ichiro’s life, we must a look little further back to see that even before WWII most Asian Americans did not feel at home in America.

Here is a brief look at Asian immigration into this country over the hundred years of 1850-1950 relying the history book by Ronald Takaki, Strangers from a Different Shore. Of course some Asians had entered the country before 1850, but this is around the time period when immigration became large scale. Immigrants included Chinese, Japanese, Filipino, Indian, Korean, among many others Asians, but to a lesser degree. Their stay here shifted back and forth between wanted importation, and intense hatred and deportation. Their labor was cheap, good for business owners, bad for other laborers. Laws passed by the US government tell the story. In 1882 the first race exclusion act was created: the Chinese Exclusion Act (14). This was followed by extensions of the exclusion act to other Asian races, systematically creating wage competition among various Asian immigrants (29). It is also necessary to note that the majority of Asian immigrates were male, thus creating a family, another sense of home, was much more difficult, and that anti-miscegenation laws abounded until 1948 when the California Supreme Court ruled against them (405). In 1913 California passes the Alien Land Law (203) barring non US citizens from owning land, this spread to many other western states (206), “In fact, the state’s image as projected by politicians in the 1920 vote on the alien land law was ‘keep California White'” (390). Since Asian immigrants were not eligible for the same citizenship and naturalization laws that white immigrants were allowed, owning land to build a home upon became an impossibility which is best highlighted by the Ozawa case in 1922, where he was denied citizenship because “he was not white” (208). More specific to this essay, in 1941, the day Pearl Harbor was bombed by the Japanese, Roosevelt signed Executive order #9066, which allowed the internment of Japanese Americans throughout the country. It is important to note that the other two major axis forces in WWII, the Italian and Germans, did not face the same racial prejudices as the Japanese (391-92). It was not until 1965 that the US government amended the Immigration and Nationality Act to remove national-origin quotas for those allowed to immigrate into the US. These laws, among many others, show that the US has had a long standing history of attempting to keep Asians from settling in this country, and making a home here.

After looking at Asian immigration history it is clear that while many Asian Americans did make their home here, they did not necessarily feel at home here. This is excluding example of personal racism which are not illustrated here yet, but it should be realized that many did face great quantities of it. For Japanese Americans during WWII and our example of the book No-No Boy, this time period was especially difficult. Their lack of home in all the senses we are talking about here exemplifies, almost to martyrdom, the Asian American experience at the time.

The Japanese internment plays very heavily into No-No Boy. When this happened families were taken out of their homes and split up. Some were shipped back to Japan, some were sent to the internment camps which sometimes left them separated within. Some Japanese were drafted into the US military, a proof that they were American not Japanese, but many could not bring themselves to join the military so they were thrown into prison for draft dodging. These men were nicknamed “no-no boys.” But joining the military was no easy feat for many Japanese, despite the possible death it could bring, it also might have meant going to war with family back in Japan. Joining the military also meant serving a country that in most cases had not served them. In the preface of No-No Boy there is a good example of this. A man was drafted into the army out of an internment camp where he and his split up family resided. “[He] had stood before the judge and said let my father out of that other camp and come back to my mother who is an old woman but misses him enough to want to sleep with him and I’ll try on the uniform. The judge said he couldn’t do that and the friend said he wouldn’t be drafted and they sent him to the federal prison” (xi). This example is not one of fair treatment, it is not the freedom Americans are encouraged to fight for, it is not what one deserves from the government of their home country. Here we also see the symbolism of a bed again, mother and father not allowed to sleep together, not allowed to share a bed. This is a very clear example of a lack of the qualities of a home that the first quote illustrates.

To take this a little further we will look at a famous American, Yuri Kochiyama, who died recently at an old age. Her voice is still seen by many as strong and influencing. She was a prominent activist in the racial struggles in this country. Yuri Kochiyama was put into an internment camp like most Japanese who were not drafted or imprisoned. Her voice is especially important as she dedicated her life to be an activist for civil rights. Seeing a link between the African American segregation and the treatment of Japanese during WWII, she worked closely with them, and even jumped on stage when Malcolm X was shot and cradled his head as he died. Her father was one of the first taken by the FBI on December 7th, 1941, the same day Pearl Harbor was bombed, and he died a few hours after his release (Kochiyama). Of the early internment she recounts, “The Japanese Americans, and even the Isseis–first generation, who could not become Americans–they were so American. [..] And yet the hysteria about, the suspicion of Japanese people was very, very strong. […] By the end of the day, I think, all the Japanese people were calling their friends to say ‘did anyone come to your home and take your father or mother?'” (Kochiyama 32:55). Living under a reality that the government can and did come into the houses of Japanese and take people’s mothers and fathers away, and later take them–nearly all Japanese, certainly destroys another important factor of having a home. That is security. To be able to lock your doors and feel safe inside your home. For nearly one hundred percent of Japanese, and Japanese Americans, in the country at that time, there was no sense of security in the places they referred to as home. This real life account emphasizes the “lonely panic” and fear of the highlighted quote.

In looking at Internment the question arises: How was this allowed to happen? The answer is it was a product of racism. Personal racism is how Americans turned a blind eye to the internment of their fellow humans, and countrymen. Before Ichiro can even make it home he is confronted on the cold street by a group of African Americans, they shout racial slurs at him: “‘Go back to Tokyo, boy.’ Persecution in the drawl of the persecuted. The white teeth and brown-black leers picked up the cue and jigged to the rhythmical chanting of ‘Jap-Boy, To-ki-yo; Jap-Boy, To-ki-yo…'” (Okada 5).  Ronald Takaki notes, “The term ‘Jap’ was  so commonplace it was even used unwittingly.” And, “Racist curses repeatedly stung their ears: ‘Jap Go Home,’ ‘Goddamn Jap!’ ‘Yellow Jap!’ ‘Dirty Jap!’ Ugly graffiti assaulted their eyes at railroad stations and in toilets: ‘Japs Go Away!’ ‘Fire the Japs!’ […] ‘Japs, we do not want you’ (Takaki 181). Verbally assaulted like this, it is hard to imagine the Japanese were seen as equals, for they clearly were not. This kind of racism did not spring up overnight either, it has been present in America since Asians began immigrating. When trying to build a sense of home, this is clearly not the foundation which one finds a place of belonging.

Returning to Ichiro’s nightmare, awaking as a stranger and asking where am I? This become not only a major theme for the book, that is Ichiro’s sense of homelessness, but also a theme for many Asian Americans in this country, throughout history. Takaki give us an account of a Japanese woman who gets pregnant while interned, she says, “I told my husband, ‘This is crazy. You realized there’s no future for us and what are we having kids for?'” (396). Indeed America was rarely the kind of place for Asian American immigrants to raise their children, or give them opportunity. Home is a safe place where families live and sleep. It is where one emerges into the world in the morning, and where one retires at night. It is something one strives to build for their family, both literally as an owned house, and mentally as a comfortable setting where all can let their guard down and feel protected. None of these places existed for Japanese in America during WWII, or for the majority of Asians in this country since they began arriving. For the Asian American, finding a home in this society is no easy task. An overarching sense of homelessness in the search for belonging, has been a keynote struggle for Asians of all decent in this country for far too long.

Work Cited

Kochiyama, Yuri. Interview with Democracy Now. Democracy Now. 2 June 2014. Broadcast. http://www.democracynow.org/blog/2014/6/2/yuri_kochiyama_on_her_internment_inw

Takaki, Ronald. Strangers from a Different Shore: A History of Asian Americans. New York: Back Bay Books, 1989. Print.

Okada, John. No-No Boy. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1976. Print.

It’s almost finals and I find myself writing this just for fun?

Gatsby Uncovered: Daisy’s role of Svengali

Despite Gatsby’s role of hero and or central character in nearly every criticism of The Great Gatsby it seems clear that this is in great error. Daisy is the true main character, she is the driving force of the book, the connecting factor and the victor in the end. The Great Gatsby has been misinterpreted from a male-centric standpoint up until this time, portraying Daisy as weak and emotional. I will show you how Daisy is clearly the feminine heroine and main character of the book.

Past reading have seen Daisy as a weak and fragile woman whose wants and needs are debated over and fought over by Tom and Gatsby, but those needs are not actually true to her. In the scene where Tom and Gatsby confront one another over who Daisy loves, Daisy’s voice is barely heard. Both men seek to speak for her as Gatsby says, “‘Your wife doesn’t love you,’ said Gatsby quietly. ‘She’s never loved you. She loves me’” (116). Daisy for her part stays mostly quiet, allowing the men to speak for her and fight for her. She is seen as afraid to speak, but the end result of this scene is that she has two men and can easily choose either one. Though she seems weak she is actually in control.

Lets cut to the chase here. Daisy is the Svengali of the story, she is the underlying driving force through all of the book. First she is why all of the characters know each other. Daisy meets Gatsby five years previous to the story and leaves in him such a want for her so strong that he devotes the entirety of the rest of his life to attaining her. Daisy is Nick’s cousin and why Nick was around to witness the story and then write it. Nick would have no story to tell without being related to Daisy. Jordan was her bridesmaid and friend. Tom is her husband. Myrtle exist merely as an opposition to Daisy’s happiness, an opponent to take Tom away from Daisy. She is the Villain or enemy, which every story surely needs. There are no other characters with such a central role in the story as Daisy.

Next Daisy is the driving force for Gatsby, the assumed main character of the story. It is made clear that everything he has done was in order to win her, a five year plan, meticulously enacted. Daisy turns Gatsby, in all his power and position, into a little boy, when they first meet again after not seeing each other for five years, he become full of fear visibly shaken, so much so that Nick reprimands him, “’You’re acting like a little boy…not only that but you’re rude. Daisy’s sitting in there all alone’” (84). The image of him looking out a the green light of Daisy’s house is unmistakeable a sign that he is entirely devoted, even controlled by Daisy, his need of her having full control over him. “But I didn’t call out to him for he gave a sudden intimation that he was content to be alone—he stretched out his arms toward the dark water in a curious way, and far as I was from him I could have sworn he was trembling” (33). Had young Jimmy Gatz never met Daisy he would never have had the drive to succeed to such lengths as he did.

Myrtle’s death is the climax for Daisy’s story. Myrtle who is seeking to steal Tom away, to steal away her husband and the father of her child, Daisy’s opposition. Daisy win Tom back during his fight with Gatsby, but also kills her competition literally, destroying any change that Myrtle could attempt to keep seeing Tom on the side. Daisy was driving when the car hit Myrtle and killed her, and Gatsby chooses to take the blame for her. Daisy not only is victor but she finds a scapegoat to take any consequences. It is a beautifully enacted victory for her.

The book ends with all opposition to Daisy’s happiness gone. She goes on a trip leaving all behind. She proves to be a strong woman not a weak one. She gets what she wants and she does it without mercy. Though it is not the surface view, it is still undeniably that Daisy makes out well in the story and that she brings the story and characters together. In the 1950’s a strong, non-gentle, non-submissive, non-virginal (yes she does sleep with Gatsby, cheating on her husband) and non-angelic woman for a main character would be unheard of. The same is true for the period the book represents, the 1920’s as well. Nonetheless if we look below the surface we can see that she was the main character and she does break the patriarchal view of the stereotypical woman.

A Quick Essay on an Essay for a Class Essay

In N. Scott Momaday’s essay “The Man Made of Words” he says, “Do you see what happens when the imagination is superimposed upon a historical event? It becomes a story. The whole piece becomes more deeply invested with meaning.” (89) What Momaday means here is really quite complicated for us to contextualize. He is saying that the mere facts of history, though important, hold less value to us than they would if they had an emotional connection. When we add some imagination to a historical fact, we add some background frame work to it that lets us humanize it and relate it to more personal experiences.

His larger picture in the essay has to do with words and storytelling. “Language” he says, “is the element in which we think and dream and act.” (83) It is how we can communicate ourselves to the world. Momaday wants us to realize how much more of an impression a story can make on the world rather than plain historical facts. I find the meaning of this to be that we as human are truly invested in our emotional presence in the world. The facts of an event only hold value in that before them and after them there is a much larger story to be told. The death toll of WWII is only important in what more it can tell us. Why do we learn this information, these statistics? It is not taught to us so that we can write the number on paper and think no further on it. It is the story that is important, the dead people’s families, the wives they may have had back home, the children, the parents. What brought them to the war is important, the content of their character, the struggles in their life and the beauty. In the moment of their death, and the events leading up to it, what did they feel? These are the questions we are compelled to listen and learn from, although we learn historical facts it is as a means to know the story behind it all, and further than that to feel some emotion about those stories.

Momaday tells us the story of Arrow Maker, a story passed verbally down through history. Within the story are universal truths, and insights for listeners to make. His paper as a whole talks of Native beliefs on helpers in times of change and on our current need to connect back with the earth in our time of technological revolution. He talks of the stories of his people and the value that those words held. He makes clear that, as this quote outlines, when we use our imagination on the past, on a historical fact, we are able to see more and see deeper. We can pull out more meaning, and this is directly related to the emotional connection we feel to it. As he says, “Man achieves the fullest realization of his humanity in such an art and product of the imagination as literature.” (88) By literature he means storytelling. We are indeed in a time of change in this world and as we look at our history and the histories of others, we should keep a connection with the emotions of those histories and with the emotions within ourselves. We will find much more value and this way as opposed to solely facts.  

(I found the essay in the anthology Noting But the Truth, by John L Purdy)

The Watchful Eyes: A Close Reading of One Paragraph from The Great Gatsby

This passage is introducing not necessarily a character but rather a billboard overlooking the Valley of Ashes. The watchful eyes of the billboard become personified by being referred to as him, they become the Eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg, and they symbolize Nick Carraway our narrator. The Eyes are ever vigilant over the slums, watching the sadness that befalls this area, this wasteland so close to the rich parties and indulgences of the East and West Eggs along the Long Island Sound. As they narrate the area, the Eyes never cease their cold viewing of the tragedy in the lives of the people who live in the Valley of Ashes. The following four sentences will come to mean much more as we analyze them using New Criticism methods.

 

“But above the gray land and the spasms of bleak dust which drift endlessly over it, you perceive, after a moment, the eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg. The eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg are blue and gigantic – – their irises are one yard high. They look out of no face, but, instead from a pair of enormous yellow spectacles which pass over a nonexistent nose. Evidently some wild wag of an oculist set them there to fatten his practice in the borough of Queens, and then sank down himself into eternal blindness, or forgot them and moved away. But his eyes, dimmed a little by many painless days, under sun and rain, brood on over the solemn dumping ground.” (Fitzgerald 27)

 

We cannot forget that Nick himself wrote this paragraph. He puts focus on the Eyes as a way to portray the way he feels about himself. The cold, colorless, empty feeling the paragraph provokes is foreshadowing the demise that he will be witness to, the “spasms of bleak dust” that he will be left with at the end of the book. The organic unity of this paragraph is that it makes us feel the lack of color and life that exists everywhere in the story, its tone and melody are cold and lifeless. It portrays the life here well, and what Nick is witness to and eventually tells us the reader.

The desperation the watchful Eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg see is a symbol for the lives of the characters in the book, and the parallels between Nick and the Eyes are telling. Like the Eyes, Nick rarely speaks or provides much input so far as we know, he too is a watcher of the tragedy and turmoil that occurs along the Long Island Sound area. He does little to interfere as events spin out of control, as money orders people’s lives, as those lives become colorless and without happiness. This symbol is made clear in one of the final paragraphs of the book where Nick says, “As I sat there brooding on the old, unknown world,”(Fitzgerald 189). Just as the Eyes “brood on over the solemn dumping ground.” These two characters, one a faceless doctor, and one the narrator stare at the same thing in different places. Overlooking the lives of those in the Valley of Ashes and in the two rich eggs of the Long Island Sound respectively, where people’s lives are so different but connected by their sadness within them. Both pairs of eyes monitor, thinking deeply on their observations with unhappiness, and both do nothing to change it. This is the definition for brood, but it can also mean to hang or hover closely according to the New Oxford American Dictionary. The Eyes clearly do this, hanging out over a billboard, but Nick does too, he is always close by, hanging around when the other characters need him. Here he comes along for the ride like usual: “…[H]is determination to have my company bordering on violence…I followed him over a low whitewashed railroad fence , and we walked back a hundred yards…” (Fitzgerald 28).

The section plays out like an old black and white photo covered in a “bleak dust”, as Merriam Webster defines bleak, it is “lacking warmth”. The only colors in the billboard are the blue eyes and yellow glasses, the rest can be assumed as black and white, and all of it deadened with age, the color is mediocre at best. Blue is enduring like the ocean or the Long Island Sound so close by, “The most domesticated body of salt water in the western hemisphere” (Fitzgerald 9). Blue is a continuing theme throughout the book and it is used to represent hopefulness, according to Lois Tyson in her New Criticism essay on the Great Gatsby (Tyson 155), but here it is just advertising hopefulness to those that probably cannot afford it, by an eye doctor to “fatten his practice”. It is a ruse of hopefulness, as most of the characters in the book don’t get what they want. Then there is the yellow of the glasses, they certainly are not bright after so long, they would be barely noticeable, an off white, an attempt at color, not alive or vibrant in any way. The word usage here is also reminiscent of this imagery of colorlessness. Gray, bleak, ashen, and paintless all remind us of the lack of color in the lives of the characters that live here. The Eyes that we would be looking at, if we noticed them staring at us from town, would only provoke more darkness.

Nick’s sentence structure in the paragraph is as cold and dark as life is in the Valley of Ashes. It is plentiful of information but never excited or fun, instead it is choppy and direct. It plays out like a wasted life: First the setting is described, then the introduction to the Eyes. It describes them physically, then their origins, finally it leaves them alone, solitary, to carry on day after long day till an inevitable destruction; “Under sun and rain, brood on…” From reading it we do not expect things to get better, it leaves only hardness and hopelessness. Each sentences caries little melody, each is flat and lifeless, with only a hint of irony held within the four sentences. The irony is of the rich and poor, this forgotten billboard is the only thing to watch over this similarly forgotten land. Rich people drive through the town, and rich people put up billboards here, but no one cares about this place, save for the Eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg. This reminds us of Nick’s solidarity in knowing the information of Gatsby’s secret past, and of his sadness at Gatsby’s tragic end.

“The solemn dumping ground” is how the town is described. Over and over again we are given the same picture in our minds of this town and the same feeling of emptiness. The words used to describe the face further prove this, “no face” and a “nonexistent nose”, leave this character absent of humanity. Even the eye doctor who paid for the sign is thought to have fallen into “eternal blindness.” The language of the paragraph leaves a hollowness that persists throughout the book.

In conclusion the Eyes in this billboard were written in by Nick to symbolize his own dark perspective on what he viewed during his stay in the Long Island Sound area, and his attempt to distance himself from it. The story that Nick tells is not a happy one, though most of it involves the super rich, and not the super poor as this single paragraph does, both sets of eyes see one and the same thing, something akin to the ruins of a fire, it is tragic and desolate. The only difference between the Doctor’s Eyes and Nick’s is that Nick played some role in the events that took place, whereas Doctor T. J. Eckleburg is afforded the ability to sit back and observe from a distance.

 

The Problem with Sensationalizing the Military

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More than just in the media, movies and on social networks, we see the sensationalizing of the US military on the streets too. Whether it be getting out of a ticket for having a military ID, discounts in restaurants, or a general requirement for care and respect of those who serve. What would happen if you openly talked of your dislike of the US military in the presence of a solider, current or retired? Would you be met with violence? Is it necessary to show respect for the members of an organization when you do not believe in the organization’s cause or in the way it reflects on you as a citizen of the country that it claims to represent? I think that most of you reading this will say yes, even if you don’t want to. It is a requirement to show respect, and you will be looked down on or threatened if you openly bash it.

We must look at a few key issues in order to see the problem with sensationalizing the military. We must question the need for a strong military in general, and we must look at nationalism as a whole and the differences between the people of the different countries of the world. We must ask if glorifying the military also glorifies violence and killing, as it is not only involved in these things regularly but also uses them as a means to achieve many of its tasks. Is this the role model we want for our kids or the image we want to project to the rest of the world? We must look at who the military is really protecting and to what ends it will bring us. And we must look at the effect it has on our citizens who join the military. As stated early there is a huge respect for vets and currently employed men and women, we must ask if they are accountable for their actions, if they come out healthier in mind and body, and if failing to judge them fairly and accurately will further the system and put more men and women in harm’s way.

So let us begin by questioning the military as a whole and we can personally decide where the servants fit it. Servants being used liberally here as those who serve in the military, those who refuse to questions it, those who are angered by disrespect to it, and in general those whose mindset allows it to continue functioning in the way that it does now. So we must ask ourselves why we have a military, is it because we have to defend ourselves from a ground or sea invasion? Is it also because the people of our nation, The United States of America, are actually so different from the other peoples of the world? As we travel the world and meet others from different countries, societies and walks of life, there are very few who can say that their lives are any less important than our own. When we meet people of other nations we find good and bad people, just as the same exists in our own country. Some people will go out of their way to help us and be friendly to us, and others seem to emit a hatred for us and others around them for no particular reason. In many cultures there are differences and we may not like the social norms of politeness or etiquette but rarely can these be considered differences that make them deserve to die. In others countries there are mothers just like in our own, and children and old people. People all around the world bleed the same blood and cry the same tears when bombs are dropped on them. Sadly this is what the military does, it is inherent in the system, it kills people, that is its major function and what it devotes the majority of its training to.

Religion seems to be the grey area here, the place where some may question who deserves to die and who does not, for the beliefs of our mortality and what lies beyond it are frightening questions. In some religions the rights of women, and humans in general, or beliefs on what pleases God may differ but in the end we cannot expect others to believe what we believe, it is their freedom to be different. In the end we all share a lack of proof of what comes after life so it seems funny to fight merely for beliefs that cannot be proven till after death. In all religions we look up and ask for help, certainly the answer is not to give others reasons to need help as well. Maybe when we get so frustrated with the beliefs of others we can remember that at one time we were all born with the same innocent naivety, and unfilled set of beliefs. In the end we are all searching for the same knowing of unanswerable questions, and the same feeling of connectedness and lack of being alone in our hearts. We are all looking for answers to the questions of the depth of our person, which may or may not go much further than death. The conclusions we come to about our beliefs may differ but they are still a part of the same search, in the major details the religions of the world are not so different from each other, and the differences are not grounds for hurting other human beings to prove they are wrong or we are right.

When we really get to know others in the world, then we see more similarities than differences. If we look for enemies rather than friends we can find them too, for all over the world there are people looking for a fight, but there exists many more who are just looking for happiness in the world. They are looking for a family and want to make enough money to support one, they are looking to laugh, and to cry. They, like you and me, want someone to hug and kiss and lay with. They, like you and me, want someone to make them feel better when disaster strikes in their lives, someone to talk with and discuss ideas, and someone to sit quietly next to in times of silence. These people are not our enemies but tragically they will be the ones who pay the largest price in wars, they will be the victims, these people just like you and me. So is there a need for a military machine, a large scale killing machine? The answer is not so easy. If we look at the people we go to war with, and the victims of war, then no, we do not need to be encouraging, participating, flag waving our troops on their march into battle.

The distinction of the peoples of the world is called Nationalism and is a large debate. It is doubtful that more could be said about it than has been already said. We are one nation among roughly 200 others, and certainly the more our country stands together and works together the more we can prosper and defend ourselves if need be, but there must be a limit to how important it is to unite as a nation rather than a world. If we create too many barriers from the rest of the world we may find that we are cutting ourselves off from more benefits than we are protecting ourselves, and that we are creating enemies rather than friends. The benefits may lie in ideas, beliefs, culture and technology from other parts of the world. In the differences of others we may find the answers to the things missing from our lives. In accepting and viewing other cultures with an open mind we may see new ways to live that bring us happier lives, or new systems of government that provide a healthier, more sustainable life. It is an undeniable result that as we cling to nationalism, and push away nations other than our own, we become more close minded and naive. Thus our severely honesty lacking media, our low number of passport owning citizens, poor standing as world travelers, and  the large number of ongoing military conflicts we are involved in.

There are a countless number of countries in present and recent history where our military has ground troops killing people, drones bombing, and spy networks collecting information, most all of which we are unaware of, or mildly aware of and seem to prefer it this way. We really must ask ourselves how this helps us, and why do we need it? Our government runs itself for the benefits of the rich to get richer, and in some cases, though rare, the poor to get richer. We are a capitalist society and money is our major focus. The military is the gun used to keep the money coming in. Wars are extremely profitable, and if we question our country and view its history we see that the military and the fighting they do is for monetary gain, not for defending our citizens. There is an old saying that the best defense is a strong offense, but this seems clearly untrue in many of the wars we are involved in, stuck in. We are creating enemies, not winning football games. We must make this more personal for it is people who are paying the price. In all of the 200 other nations can we really say that we are better than any of the others? No, but we can try to unite and make ours stronger. The problem is that the military may not actually be making us stronger. It may be closing us off from the benefits of good relations with the other countries of the world and it does this under a guise that it is for our good, when really it is all economics, most of which affects us on a very low level, but they make the wealthy of the world super wealthy. These people have no use for nationalism in their own live, they see it only as an idealism use to enslave us and make them more money. Watching the money, spent and made, is key to seeing who benefits and who loses in wars, and is probably the common people, of our country or any other. The money made in wars is unjustifiable cause for the harm they creates.

Another reason the military is considered so important and deserving of respect is that they are considers to be our protectors from those that would hurt us. The last invasion on the US was nearly 70 years ago when the Japanese bombed Pearl harbor, before that it was the Mexican war in the 1840’s and then all the way back to the civil war where it was actually us invading ourselves. Potential large scale war on US soil seems to be a driving force in believing we need a large military but this fear is ungrounded. The events of the September 11th invasions by private individuals cannot be left out, but we must consider how much we contributed to this attack, as we, our military, had already been involved in the life of many Arabic cultures, and our thirst for oil seems unquenchable. The individuals who bombed us were created by us, they were retaliating for the tens of years of destruction we caused in their lives. Through government meddling and oil searching we have contributed to many fatherless families and the death and hardship of so many. This information is well known at this point and the idea that America is hated by many for the death and misfortune we have caused in other culture’s lives is unconcealed. Those that wish to attack us harbor revenge, not greed. Our government and military created them.

The rest of the world is violent for sure, but we are as well, we may even top the chart on violence. Many countries would attack the US if they had the chance, possibly even some do attempt to attack our home, but our defense system has kept them out. It is unknown how many countries or private citizens would come here to attack us because they are too afraid to do so. It seems that the only real way to attack the United States is through private convictions, and the willingness to kill yourself in the progress. It is unreasonable to believe that it is sustainable to keep making the world too afraid to attack, this can only last for so long, and as more and more enemies are created around the world the job will become more and more difficult and our military will continue to grow. As of right now we are the second largest military in the world, second only to china which has a twenty-two times larger population than us, how much larger do we want it to be? What percentage of our citizens do we want to me military servants.

Another problem with sensationalizing the military is that it promotes violence. If we hold violent acts and perpetrators of violence as monuments and heroes, we are clearly encouraging more of them. Children look to heroes as idols for what they want to become in life, even adults can be swayed by this idolization. As we cheer for military success around the world, we fail to encouraging ourselves to handle our problems with conversation and diplomacy. The more we clap our hands for those who use guns to solve problems the more we consider it right to use violence in our homes and personal lives. Child and domestic abuse in our culture can be linked to this, as can the violence we see on the streets of our home country, which is more than in many countries around the world. Most people agree that we should teach children to handle their problems without violence, beating up someone on the playground because you don’t get along, or because they have something that you want, is not the answer. Children should be taught to talk out their problems and come to peaceful solutions, to accept each other’s differences and to get along, but the military clearly does not act in this way or hold these as organizational values, and yet we hold them is such high esteem. We must ask why people who change the world without violence get less coverage, in the media and in conversation, than those who take what they want at the expense of others. When lives are taken for lower oil prices and it is accepted by the nation, why should we not take what we want from our neighbors by force. When the media and our citizens glorify revenge, killing, and success, even at the cost of human lives, American or foreign, we set violence as an acceptable courses of action, rather than a last resorts. If we don’t stop to question our military and to empathize with those hurt by it, we are not role models for our children or peers. The military is not a role model and should not be idolized. It should be questioned openly, without fear of an angry recourse.

The US military system seems to be put in a different category from those that hold its guns and die for it. It is sometimes ok speak badly of the military but not those who willingly volunteer to fight for its cause, and fight is very literal here, life and death in many situations. The problem with doing this is that it seeks to take all accountability away from the people in the military and possibility even credibility. Credibility because how can we think someone is credibly if they don’t make their own decision, if they follow orders even in the most character defining situations like taking a life. The two categories of military and soldier are certainly different but they achieve the same goals, one as master one as servant. In order to truly question the military we must also question those who carry out its ends. So as not to offend those with a deep respect for military men and women, and those in the military, that there is a difference between those who follow orders and those who call the shots, but why would anyone follow an order to take a life.

From the very start when a person decides to sign up for the Army, Navy or Marines, they may not know what exactly to expect. The recruiter may have told fantastic stories and built and unrepresentative images of what military life will be like, but certainly there is an understanding that you may kill other human beings, and may be killed. No one can hide this, it’s at the heart of the military. There may even be a want to go out and use guns and drive tanks or other powerful killing machines. It also seems reasonable to do serious research before you sign your life over to an organization for 3-5 years. Much of the time those joining are young and impressionable, though legally considered old enough. Claiming ignorance when joining the military can only be accepted to a certain point. At the age required to join the military people are old enough to be responsible for their actions, but without proper parenting and role models they may be naive to how much the military will alter the course of their life.

The military has an amazing training program, they know what they are doing. They tear you down and rebuild you into what they want, into a soldier that follows orders. They are extremely successful at this. That is why our military is so good. But the outcomes are not as great as they sound. People leave the military with horror stories and psychological disorders. They leave with lifelong injuries and sometimes they leave in a body bag. Sometimes our government doesn’t even take care of these people or their families when they come home broken in some way. When they return home they are different in mind and body. There is a chance they will have seen things that cannot be erased from their memory no matter how much it is desired. They may find themselves more prone to violence and more emotionally closed up. There are certainly skills learned in the military and a possibility of a better future for some, but there is also the possibility of negative outcomes on the soldier’s life. We must really ask if the positives outweigh the negatives, we must bring it close to the heart. Would you want your son or daughter in the military, would you want your husband or wife, your father or mother, would you want yourself in the military, holding a gun, defending your life for nationalism, in another country defending our country, to continue driving a machine that more than likely will only benefit a few rich people who don’t need the help in the first place?

Oxford dictionary defines sensationalism as:  “the use of exciting or shocking stories or language at the expense of accuracy, in order to provoke public interest or excitement.” Is this what happens with our military? Yes it is. It is what happens when we believe that we are protecting ourselves from outside threats while making a handful of new threats for every one defended, and failing to view the victims of wars as more similar to us than different. It is what happens when we treat our country and the citizens of it as better than any of the other human beings around the world. It is sensationalism when we glorify the use of violence to solve problems, and it does teach others around us, especially children, that this is an acceptable way to act. We are sensationalizing the military when we idolize those who keep it running, working and killing, when we congratulate their loss of humanity and loss of self, rather than morn each person’s personal or mental loses and alterations by the military complex. These are all proofs that we are sensationalizing the military and that it has a negative impact on our loved ones, countrymen and fellow human beings. Lastly it is sensationalism when we fail to see the government’s true goals with the military, who they hurt and who they help, and who is behind the strings profiting from the wars we die in.