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.

Thoughts on “The Bear” by Momaday

I can see him, walking slowly through the woods, calm, relaxed, slow and dumb. He sniffs the air, nibbles some berries, has a pace-ful walk. From first glance you see little of this creature, almost extinct, a relic of a courageous creature. He seems threatening only in his pure size, but his mind is dim and slow with age. But you are wrong, he is brown bear, all seeing all knowing. He, like our past Indian brothers and sisters, sees the demise of the world, of the way of life we live. He will fight when there is no other course but the wiser of us sees when the fight will incur too many damages. He walks the woods, rarely seen, in his own world, what little is left of it. He can still find a healthily fearful peace amid the hunters and their traps. More importantly he can still find peace amid the humans, encroaching upon the forest, soon to be gone if we are not careful. Soon he will be gone too.

Momaday writes this in a haiku, 5-7-5-7 for five stanzas. It’s melody has a consistent pace, slow and methodical, just like the bear. It focuses on the Jaws of the trap, which the bear has been bitten by, but is still alive. My favorite line by far is “pain slants his withers” you can see his shoulder blades trudging slightly crooked down the path, right leg a little ahead of left. You can see the fear in this bear, but he is still wiser than we realize, for he is still alive. The metaphor here is two-fold, I think the bear is a metaphor for Native Americans, almost wiped out from this world, but still there, growing, ninja in their movements. But I also think the bear’s possible death is a metaphor for the state of the environment. It is impossible to not see his likely extinction as a result of the killing we do to our mother earth. I would like you to picture the bear I painted above, or Momaday’s bear, and then put a man on a quad bike in the picture, either on his trail after him, or on a different trail with the bear observing the man from a distance. What is the bear thinking? What will it do? How does the contrast of the bear and the quad in the forest make you feel?

Brown bear

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.