Alice Graduates

Words alone cannot describe the importance of compassion

The best leaders are the best followers; It’s kind of counterintuitive when you think about it. For the average person, the world “leader” invokes thoughts of power, success, unbending will, and a dependence on hierarchy. However, the best leaders our world has ever seen were not great because of these characteristics, but because they could connect to the people they led. This very ability to empathize and truly understand the thoughts, wills, and desires of the people around you is key to being a great leader. Why is this ability to relate to others so vital? As a leader, one must make decisions based off of the ideas and arguments of others. For example, Alice, while listening to the executioner, the King, and the Queen in the croquet-ground, is “appealed to by all three to settle the question” (Annotated Alice: Alice in Wonderland 88) of whether you could cut off a head that is not attached to a body. In the story, Alice diverts the question to the duchess, but in real life we cannot always outsource our problems. If we can listen to the views of others with both logical and emotional understanding, we can make the wisest decision when arguments arise. Even more important, we can unify the interests of every individual for the well-being of the whole.

I have to discover my own emotional intelligence

In this class, I have strived to grow the emotion intelligence necessary to understand those around me and ultimately become a successful leader. Almost all the readings in this class describe unique sufferings that we as students have never had to endure. Whether it is the plight of a newly immigrated Chinese woman, the abruptly ended lives of farm animals, or the loss of a whole tribe to the greed of Americans, I have had to connect my own experiences to the misfortunes of countless fictional and nonfictional characters. In a way, I can never perfectly empathize with the painful experiences of all the unique lives I have read about. Yet, I have to try. As Alice, “conquered her shyness by a great effort,” (Annotated Alice: Through the Looking Glass 262) I must break down my emotional barriers with similar effort. After all the discussions and readings of our class, the necessity of empathy seems overwhelming. I have a long way to go before I can build the compassion needed to address the needs of everyone I meet, but being able to understand the countless works we have read on a deeply emotional level is definitely a step in the right direction.

Karen Armstrong, a former Catholic nun, created the “Charter for Compassion.” Signed by a diverse body of people that includes the Dalai Llama, and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the charter holds a simple, yet deep message:

Published in: on May 2, 2010 at 2:06 am  Leave a Comment  

Woman Warrior 3

Moon Orchid's husband ignores Moon Orchid

Ironically enough, Moon Orchid becomes a ghost after finally finding her way to America through the help of Brave Orchid. Even before meeting her husband, Moon Orchid is a “ghost” in that she cannot complete the simplest of tasks. However, she becomes a true ghost when she endures the horrific experience of meeting with her Americanized husband. “What is it, grandmothers?” (Kingston 152) he asks as he breaks down the esteem of Moon Orchid. Not only is she insulted, but she is told to leave behind all relation to her husband. The immigration experience and the denial by her own husband leads to her insanity. Moon Orchid becomes, “shrunken to the bone” (Kingston 160) and eventually dies a lonely death. It may seem extreme, but I believe Kingston uses this story to prove that such an inability to fit in, and its consequences, are more common than we realize.

Moon Orchid


Chinese Reed Pipe

The recalled childhood of Kingston in “A Song for a Barbarian Reed Pipe” demonstrates a familiar topic in our class: the power of writing. We can see the effects of emotion-packed oratory as she bombards her mother with anger and insults. She compiles a series of “guilts for [her] list to tell her mother.” (Kingston 204) Despite the intensity of the quarrel between the two, Kingston hints at the fact that her writings of the situation today are more logical and mature. She can analyze her relationship with her mother and family on multiple levels with mixed feelings. Without a doubt, this the most personal of Kingston’s chapters and shows to the readers the process by which she reflects on her childhood. As she does so, we come to understand how a person’s life is defined by a combination of societal conditioning and personal choices. Kingston by no means hates her mother, but she recognizes the difficulties her mother had and understands how such difficulty negatively affected her actions. I like to think the ending wasn’t bitter, but was more of a memoir of a family struggling to reconcile two cultures.
Maxine Hong Kingston, The Woman Warrior. NY: Vintage Books, 1989. pb.

Published in: on April 28, 2010 at 10:34 pm  Leave a Comment  

Woman Warrior 2

Brave Orchid: ghost fighting shaman and healing doctor in China, domestic woman in America. The change is a big to say the least. While China and America illicit different responses from Brave Orchid, her character remains unchanged. Her character is not simple by any means, however. The complexity of Brave Orchid is that at times, the reader is compelled to view her in admiration and esteem and at others, the reader is compelled to look down upon her words and actions.

Chinese Shaman

For example, Orchid proves to have the will of an ox and unbeatable determination. She understands the value of hard work. Fitting of the elder asian stereotype, the very importance she places on hard work brings out irritating traits. I believe, after all, that hard work and success are only small pieces of the puzzle of happiness. Brave Orchid, like many asian parents of today, couldn’t agree less. “Brave Orchid who had been married for almost fifty years, did not wear any rings. They got in the way of all the work.” (Kingston 127) It is this strengthening of the Asian-woman stereotype that is meant to be displeasing for the reader. Brave Orchid strengthens the stereotype not only through her personality, but in her attitude towards women in general. Again, she belittles her daughter, telling her that she costs too much. Kingston states that, “In China my parents would sell my sisters and me.”(Kingston 99) Whether the statement is true or not, the reader cannot help but feel bad for the daughter and disdain for the mother. At the same time, we recognize that Brave Orchid’s work ethic and intelligence are respectable traits that aid her care of her daughters.
While Brave Orchid’s character seems to be independent of the country she lives in, her attitude is not. There is obviously some resentment towards America as a place. We can first see this through the comparisons between China and the United States. Brave Orchid complains that, “Human beings don’t work like this in China. Time goes slower there. Here we have to hurry, feed the hungry children before we’re too old to work.” (Kingston 105) Another way the readers can recognize Brave Orchid’s change of attitude is in her constant naming of “ghosts.” Unlike the ghosts of China, she cannot slay the ghosts she encounters in America. The ghosts in America represent all the things that Brave Orchid cannot grasp. In China, she could not only understand ghosts, but destroy them. In America, ghosts are numerous people, places and things that remain out of Brave Orchid’s understanding and instead, become sources of frustration.
And so this is the Asian immigrant experience: we lose all our supernatural powers, gain a strong work ethic, hone our mental math skills, and give up our ability to operate motor vehicles. But seriously, there is a loss that takes place when immigrants come from the East and start living in the United States. Asian-Americans who immigrate struggle to hold onto their culture and struggle even more to grasp the “ghosts” of an American culture. It’s a hard life to imagine, but there is always honor in the fact that their sacrifices are made for the good of their children. I am a first-generation child (at least half), and I will always appreciate the ghosts my mother, and countless like her, have had to overcome.

A really cool part of Chinese culture is the Zheng (stringed instrument):

Maxine Hong Kingston, The Woman Warrior. NY: Vintage Books, 1989. pb.

Published in: on April 26, 2010 at 10:27 pm  Leave a Comment  

Woman Warrior

Misogyny isn't limited to any one country

The plight of Asian Americans is an interesting topic. Kingston uses her novel to tackle a very specific group that endures very specific hardships. In “No Name Woman,” Kingston uses the main character to show how careful a woman must be regarding her feelings and desires. In the Asian American culture, honor is everything, and to dishonor or disgrace your name was essentially sealing your own doom. For a woman, “the work of preservation demands that the feelings playing about in one’s guts not be turned into action.” (Kingston 8). In many cultures, not only Asian cultures, women are expected to be perfect workers. If a woman does not fulfill one of her domestic duties, she is a failure, but if she does a perfect job, she receives no reward and usually no recognition. The man was allowed to engage in immoral behavior with little punishment and never repudiation, but a woman could easily be disowned for a mistake. A woman could easily become “a child with no descent line…ghost-like.” (Kingston 15) This gender role-playing was not even considered discriminatory until a few decades ago.

Portrait of Fa Mu Lan

The novel takes an interesting twist when the narrator changes her point of view so that she imagines herself in the world of Fa Mu Lan. By being a woman warrior, she is switching roles and well, kind of enjoying it. The ability to take life, define your own honor, confront your enemies, and gain power are all things she could not dream of doing as a household woman. The submissiveness of the Asian American woman is ridiculously constraining. The unbreakable chains unwillingly placed on her by simply being a woman in real life, do not exist in her epic childhood fantasy. As a warrior, she can break past the rotten thoughts that, “girls are maggots in the rice,” or that “it is more profitable to raise geese than daughters.” (Kingston 43)  In real life, she cannot stand up against blatant racists and murderous communists. As Fa Mu Lan, she can save thousands, she can intimidate, she can love, she can hate, she can do all the things she could never do in her real-life jail formed from steel bars of racism and cold concrete walls of male chauvinism. As Fa My Lan, she can fight for herself and never be a victim of “the sellers with their ropes, cages, and water tanks…the sellers of little girls.” (Kingston 79). As Fa Mu Lan, she knows “[she] would be happy.” (Kingston 31)

I don’t know what Jose is talking about. Mulan is a good movie.

Published in: on April 22, 2010 at 1:38 am  Leave a Comment  

Gender Diversity 2

Being multihued: you think it would be something I could I understand very well. In a sense, I do understand the different lifestyle a biracial person leads. My life was different though. I didn’t endure the pains and emotional setbacks that Luckett did. I “received the best of both years” (Luckett 866). Luckett was “exposed to both the ugliness and benefits of multiracial life” -something I can’t say I’ve done. My family was good to me, I grew up quite fortunate, and I haven’t had any really traumatizing experiences. I simply haven’t suffered enough to attain true wisdom.

This book is just an interesting photograph journal of people of mixed asian heritage.

But there is one piece of wisdom that Luckett talks about that I can completely agree with, even back up with my own experiences. The people around you completely and utterly shape who you are. While it is a pretty extreme view, I think everything that defines us, from our appearance, to our personality, to our everyday choices are ultimately shaped by how we were raised in society and how that society continues to affect us as we interact with it on a daily basis. Yes, we do make vital choices everyday: Will I choose to study for this test or just blow it off? Will I open the door for the girl walking behind me or will I ignore her? Heck, Will I go pursue a bachelors degree or give up and go live on the streets? But in reality, our choices aren’t as simple as we may think. Our choices are subconsciously molded by our past interactions with people, places and things in a incomprehensibly complex manner. We don’t really have as much control over our actions as we think we do. Luckett knows the importance of the people around him, so much so that he began the search for his father, “the man that had influenced his growth and sparked insurmountable curiosity.” (Luckett 868)

Many Koreans have conservative Christian ideals

If I was to generalize the influence of parents on their children it would be like this: When it comes to the important things, children either embrace the model that their parents have provided and live it themselves, or they struggle to break free and strive their whole life to live exactly how their parents had NOT intended. I am sure there is a little bit of a spectrum, but I am sure everyone falls a little-bit into one of the two categories. Johnny Lee is the latter example, but in his unfortunate situation, he didn’t really have a choice. Lee realized he was gay and more importantly realized it was part of who he is-not something that could be changed. He had to sacrifice his relationship with his parents. Johnny Lee understands that “his life will never be the same.” When it comes to his parents, “it is difficult to feel the same love [he] once felt for [his] mother and father” and is saddened by the realization that, “It is impossible to take any of it back.” (Lee 879) What is just as saddening is that Lee knows that his parents contempt is a product of cultural influences. Lee understands that he cannot change their minds and that they have long accepted that “There is no Korean gay” (Lee 228)

Betty Nguyen on her half Vietnamese identity.

Vincent Ng shares a similar problem, but his fear of confronting his parents has major effects on his actions. Again, I would argue that his strained relationship with his parents has, over the years, changed who he is. His fear resulted in silence and suppression. His “concerns about [his] race and the absence of any romantic or sexual relations even of the most fleeting kind had…remained tacit throughout high school.” (Ng 884) In the end, he still has to work on the “continuation transformation in my relationship with [his] father.” (Ng 887)

In the end, I’d like to think that mankind is working in the right direction, that we are embracing the good that society has to offer and pulling away from the bad. Part of me wants to say that everything is genetics and psychology, that our choices really aren’t choices at all, but another part of me wants to say that I underestimate the power of free will. Honestly?…I’m not sure. I guess I have time to figure it out.

Published in: on April 20, 2010 at 2:08 am  Leave a Comment  

The Bluest Eye 3

Morrison ends the novel with the rape of Pecola by her father, the lost of her incestual child, and the disdain of people around her. While the story does an amazing job at pulling at the reader’s heart strings, Morrison’s writings serve a deeper purpose than evoking pathos from the audience. The fictional story of Pecola and the other major characters in The Bluest Eye allow Morrison to make a statement about her nonfictional world.

The desire for blue eyes was only a result of societal conditioning.

After Morrison recalls her experience with a friend who truly wished for blue eyes, Morrison “pecks away at the gaze that condemned her.” (Morrison 210) Her writing describes the setting that causes such racial-self loathing and hopes to move the readers into heavy questions about their own moralities. This is made clear as she worries that “the weight of the novel’s inquiry on so delicate and vulnerable a character could smash her and lead readers into the comfort of pitying her rather than into an interrogation of themselves for the smashing.” (Morrison 211)

In truth, that is kind of how I did feel “touched but not moved.” (Morrison 211) Just as Cholly failed to blame the two white men who watch him with Darlene, I failed to blame society for Pecola’s situation. I let my sympathy override my sense of anger and injustice. It wasn’t until I read the afterword that I had to reevaluate my reaction to the end of the narrative. I think that Morrison wants us to feel more than sympathy for Pecola. It was up to the reader to realize that the Pecola’s rape was more complex a problem than Cholly’s mental state.

Morrison talks about the misunderstood black culture

In the big picture, it was a white-centralized society that caused all of Pecola’s pains. The author wants the reader to recognize “a social disruption with tragic individual consequences.” (Morrison 214). The injustices to the black culture described throughout the novel are not limited to the fictional stories. The Bluest Eye reminds us that prejudice-based on race or not- is still a problem that needs to be constantly addressed. As we learned first semester, “the sympathetic imagination in literature and morality are psychologically dependent on each other…they augment each other’s growth and delicacy, and the decline in one necessarily precipitates decline in the other.”(Fall Anthology 274O)

So how does Morrison fit into this? Her characters leave the reader emotionally attached. Her imagery sparks the readers imagination. Her plot keeps the reader interested. But what makes her writing nobel prize worthy is an ability to evoke provoking moral questions while still maintaining all the other qualities that make a novel interesting. You could always read the Bluest Eye as just another good story, but that would be robbing it of its true value and of its authors intentions. The novel has that special ability to impact a reader and ultimately induce change…so why not embrace it?

The movie precious also uses sympathy and compassion so that the viewers may reevaluate the state of their society:

Published in: on April 10, 2010 at 11:17 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Bluest Eye 2

It is almost impossible not to judge a book by its cover. I’ve said it; It’s a hard fact to face. While I know that many people may argue that they are able to look past appearances, I cannot help but argue that judging people, places and things by how they look is simply human nature. Our brains prefer to organize information into categories. Understand that I am not trying to hack away at the moral fiber of mankind. Rather, I am stating a fact in that people can’t help but formulate first impressions of a person based off of how they look. What distinguishes the good and the bad (and the ugly) is an ability to work past initial impressions and uncover the diamond in the rough.

I’d like to think that a America as a whole is moving in this direction. I am pretty confident that people in 1941 were significantly less willing to look past appearance before making a judgement about the kind of person they are. As Morrison expresses through the thoughts of her complex characters, looks dictate everything, and that is just the way things are. Even those who get the short end of the straw (Pecola and her family for instance), know that their looks hamper everything from their lifestyle to their relationships with others. After losing her teeth in the movie theatre, Polly begins the downward spiral in her life that leads to the broken Breedlove family earlier in the novel. She “settled down to just being ugly.” (Morrison 123) Her sadness originates from more than the realization that she can never look like Jean Harlow; her sadness originates from the fact that her inability to look like Jean Harlow guarantees her inability to live a life of luxury or happiness like Jean Harlow or any white woman for that matter. By “equating physical beauty with virtue” (Morrison 122), beauty holds value and opportunity. Just as the poor know their correlation between their appearance and their situation, the wealthy know the correlation between their appearance and their situation. Maureen shows this as she displays racism towards her own kind exclaiming, “Black and ugly black e mos. I am cute!”(Morrison 73)  As a child, Maureen still understands that being “cute” and not “black” brings her favorability just as much as the main characters know that their appearance brings out disgust in others. What they don’t understand is: Why? Why are things the way they are? Why do the pretty white girls lead better lives? Why can’t I be seen as beautiful?

Polly even sees her own daughter as ugly.

These questions exist because judgements based off of appearance are just plain stupid. Sure, some first impressions based off of looks may be close to the truth, but you cannot come close to understanding the complexity of people based off of their race or beauty.  Claudia struggles to understnad the “thing that made [Maureen] beautiful.” “What is the Thing?”(Bump 332) As Professor Bump explains in the analysis, without an understanding of the injustice of such racism, a young child builds a feeling of shame. “A deeper emotion” where “a person is convinced that he or she is a mistake.” (Bump 332) Herein lies one of the saddest results of a racist society: the young are conditioned to false views of beauty and superiority.

As stated in the beginning, initial judgements based off appearance are unavoidable. It would be ignorant to say all people are the same, that race differences don’t exist, or that everyone is desirable and pretty.  However, we can look at everyone on an individual basis and take the time to discover what really makes up who they are.

Society still has kind of messed up standards on beauty.

Published in: on April 6, 2010 at 1:45 am  Leave a Comment  

The Bluest Eye 1

The characters introduced in the “Autumn” section of Toni Morrison’s the Bluest Eye all deal with poverty in different ways. At times the bonds between a family help people get through the rough economic times and at other times, the rough times work to break the bonds of a family until each individual breaks down themselves. Claudia’s family in the first section completely differs in comparison to the Breedloves, in part due to this difference.

The Shirley Temple Claudia hates, with the Bojangles she loves.

First, I must make clear the fact that the poor socioeconomic standing of Claudia definitely has an adverse effect on her. At her young age in the beginning of the novel, she cannot quite comprehend why she has been placed in the life she is in. Her curiosity is made most obvious when she used all her might to “break off the tiny fingers, bend the flat feet, loosen the hair, twist the head around…” (The bluest eye 21) and completely dismember her christmas gift doll. As she states, the act itself was not the frightening thing; what was frightening was “the indifference with which [she] could have axed”(the bluest eye 22) an actual white girl. Claudia simply wants to know why things are the way they are. How does the white girl receive adoration? Why does she not live the same way? Why is she seen as repulsive and uninteresting? Despite her acknowledgment that her life is of the lower class, she finds happiness in her family.

Her mother is depicted as a strict, but at the same time, filled with love and laughter. Her discipline is reasonable, and her harshness fades away into the sound of peasant singing. Claudia leaves us no doubt that her family brings her happiness and importance as she wanted to ‘sit on a low stool in Big Mama’s kitchen with [her] lap full of lilacs and listen to Big Papa play his violin for [her]”(The Bluest Eye 22) for Christmas. Her new friend Pecola, however, was not raised under the same room for the earlier part of her life.

Pecola lived in a family where violence was the norm. The book makes me infer that Cholly’s horrible, drunken way of dealing with his situation led to the dysfunctional family that is the Breedloves. While the Sammy and Mrs. Breedlove hold anger, I feel that such anger is only a product of Cholly’s failures. The violence of Pecola’s home and the rejection of the outside world caused her an unbearable amount of pain. Her eyes were scarred with the sigh of her torn family-to the point where she desperately wished herself far away from her home, sadly realizing that “she could never get her eyes to disappear.” (The Bluest Eye 45) We can assume the broken marital relationship of Pecola’s parents builds her “deep feelings of abandonment, of the ultimate alientation, of being an orphan in the world.” (Anthology 252) In fact, Pecola finds herself a true orphan in Claudia’s home, but more importantly, her emotional state is no doubt fractured by her even more fractured family.

Morrison’s ability to create such a convincing cast of characters is extremely rare. It is almost impossible not sympathize with the situations of the young girls in the novel. She, “prevents the reader from escaping and denying the reality of life in such a family.”(Anthology 354) More than just filling the reader with sympathy for Claudia, Morrison also uses the story to prove the importance of family in all our lives and in every situation.

Published in: on April 1, 2010 at 5:02 am  Leave a Comment  

The Sad Story of the Sioux

I had a lot of trouble prying meaning from the translated words of Black Elk. Because the account is taken from the spoken Lakota words from an actual Sioux, I trust that Neihardt gave the most accurate depiction of the Native American people that he possible could. However, the account was given with plenty of description and a lack of story line content. Naturally, my mind focused on the historical plot that provides the setting for the story: the interaction of Native Americans with European settlers up until the battle at Wounded Knee or rather, the massacre at Wounded Knee.

Meeting before entering battle

I found a lot of morbid irony in the fact that the Native Americans, a peace loving people who value the sacredness of all life forms, were forced to defend their people against the west settling “white man.” The Great Sioux were not a violent people, but were killed by the millions as they faced inescapable genocide. We can see the Sioux’s peaceful tendencies as Black Elk explains with his sacred bow in-hand that he “was a little in doubt about the Wanekia religion at that time, and did not want to kill anybody because of it.” (Black Elk Speaks xxxv) It is a feeling of vengeance invoked by the suffering of his own people that drives his will to fight.

The account makes me think that in many ways, the Native Americans were more advanced than his white counterpart. The Native Americans did not have the technological innovation to stand up to the United State’s armies which ultimately led to their defeat, but the Sioux people understood an important concept that we so often talk about in class: unity. The conflict caused between the Native American people and the invading white settlers was the result of the white man’s poor reconciliation with diversity. The Sioux people found meaning in, “pleasing to the Powers of the Universe that are One Power.” (Black Elk Speaks xxxii) The White man found meaning in furthering his own success and beliefs. Black Elk has trouble comprehending the white man’s senseless killing as he recalls when “the bison were so many that they could not be counted, but more and more Wasichus came to kill them until there were only heaps of bones scattered where they used to be. The Wasichus did not kill them to eat; they killed them for the metal that makes them crazy, and they took only the hides to sell.”(Black Elk Speaks xxxi) Just as the bison were killed for unjustified reasons, the Sioux people were killed for land, religious differences, cultural differences, and other ignorant reasons.

I could rant on the countless injustices of the white man when it comes to the treatment of Native Americans, but instead of focusing the rest of my entry on the tragedy of the fall of the Sioux, I’d like to acknowledge their great culture. Although simple, the Sioux people were nothing less than a wise people. They understood that land can’t truly be owned by any one person. They understood that all living and natural forces are in some manner sacred. We can all learn from Black Elk’s continual appreciation of the beauty around him.

Published in: on March 29, 2010 at 10:04 pm  Leave a Comment  

Connections with Nature

Native Americans have a connection with nature

What amazed me most about Black Elk Speaks is the sense of duty that the Native American people have in regards to nature. It is admirable for several reasons. Consider our own society in which animals are treated as products under a market driven utilitarian society. Efficiency comes before justice in too many places. Here in Black Elk Speaks, the Native Americans are not one, but two steps ahead of the rest of us in terms of showing compassion for nature and life. First, the Grandfather’s drive home the beauty of the nature around them. The Native Americans’ respect for nature keeps them from unnecessary killing. There is a very real spiritual belief that “the morning star lives to give men wisdom”(Anthology 359) and that their exists a “holy tree that should have flourished in a people’s heart with flowers and singing birds.” (Anthology 359) In other words, nature is truly a spiritual entity that can offer divine revelations for mankind.

Pandora

The movie Avatar takes a similar approach. In the movie, the humans have forgotten the value in appreciating nature around them. The humans, in a cliche manner, seek out the creatively named unobtanium. As expected, the futuristic race of man has nothing in mind but economic gain. On the other hand, the native Na’vi live in harmony with the surrounding life of planet Pandora. The spiritual journey of the cold marine Sully, into the  wiser Na’vi form of himself symbolizes the value in what some would call, “returning to your roots.” While technology and progress are obviously beneficial, the movie tries to remind us that we as a race still have ethical responsibilities towards the planet that we live upon. Speciesism is a widely used example used to argue how man has fallen from his ability to empathize with other life. Back to Black Elk…

Wolf Pack

The second manner in which the Native American people are superior in their treatment of nature is that they go beyond respecting nature and help it flourish. As the Grandfather said in the story, ‘you shall walk upon the earth, and whatever sickens there you shall make well.’ (Anthology 364) Supporting wildlife out of compassion is an extremely rare occurrence in present day. As my totem animal, the wolf, suggests, we should think of life as a family or pack. Why not consider the unity between life and use it as a driving force for good?

Published in: on March 25, 2010 at 4:32 am  Leave a Comment  
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