The Concept of the Word”Power”: Analysis of this concept in A Raisin in the Sun and Mean


Brian Poerio

Maddie Tichy

Mikayla Cooper

Ryan Rizzo

Moments where power is demanded or exerted are often essential defining moments in many works of literature. In addition, much of the conflict that occurs in literature stems from the desire for and abuse of power. Power is a concept interpreted in various ways in different literary works. It is a main theme seen in many of the books read in Introduction to Modern Multicultural Literature including A Raisin in the Sun and Mean. The concept of power is conveyed through words as well as actions in these works.

The word ‘power’ has a deep rooted history, but today is defined as possession of control, authority, or influence over others (Merriam Webster). The deep rooted history of the word, stems from its etymology. Originally derived from the vulgar Latin word- podir, meaning  “to be able to,” the word has a long history also rooted in the Anglo-French word “pouair,” referring to: legal power or authority; authorization; military force, an army, ability; ability to act or do; strength” (online etymology dictionary).

Lorraine Hansberry’s Play, A Raisin in the Sun, takes place in 1950’s Chicago telling the story of the Younger family: a family that frequently struggles with money and their relationships with each other throughout the play. The character Mama maintains most of the power over the household due to her generational authority. Hansberry displays Walters’ struggle for power through his words and his actions. Walter, son to Mama and brother to Beneatha, struggles throughout the text with his inability to work enough and pay for his dreams. After the death of her husband, Mama received a check for the insurance on his death. Walter states at the start of the text, “(Bitterly) [n]ow ain’t that fine! You just got your mother’s interest at heart, ain’t you, girl? You such a nice girl—but if Mama got that money she can always take a few thousand and help you through school too—can’t she?”(Hansberry 38). Mama intended on using it for a new home and to help Beneatha go to school to be a doctor. She did not endorse Walter’s desire to open a liquor store however, and Walter attempts to steal away the money Beneatha will gain by attempting to sway her away from going to school. Beneatha defends herself against his attempt to assert power over her, stating “[p]icking on me is not going to make her give it to you to invest in any liquor stores—(Underbreath, dropping into a chair)—and I for one say, God bless Mama for that”(Hansberry 39). Both Mama, and Beneatha have no interest in using money to open a liquor store. Walter continues to assert that Beneatha should not be favored with Mama’s money. He demeans Beneatha by claiming women do not become doctors and Mama should not waste money on a dream for his sister when he believes his dream is worth more. Walter uses his power of being the man in the family to attempt to overpower the dreams of his sister. We discover here that Walter does not care for his family’s dreams, but is willing to take the necessary funds from those dreams to build his own.

Mama fears she is losing her son after he starts staying out late and drinking all night.  She believes giving him responsibility over her money would teach him how to be the man of the house like his father once was and keep him from losing himself and drifting from his family. He however, uncaring of the risks he poses to the dreams of his family, uses this power and acts of attempting to obtain a liquor license. The attempt is a failure and Mama approaches her son saying, “Son, I gave you sixty-five hundred dollars. Is it gone? All of it? Beneatha’s money too?”(Hansberry 121-122). Walter’s struggle for power not only ends in disaster for him, but for his family as well. Although she does not back away from Walter and stand for herself, he ultimately gains control of the money, and abuses the power the money has and ruins the chances of his family in vain. Walter used his ability to act on his dreams, disregarding the potential loss his family will face because of it. It may be the case that Walter believed a man’s dream and power over the family money was more legitimate than his mother or sister in control over the family funds. In the end however, Walter shows that words and actions are able to be used in the attempt to overpower, or assert power onto others and how used improperly, power can corrupt dangerously.The text overall displays Walter’s constant desire for power, and although his intentions in the text are to provide for the family similar to how his father had, Walter fails to understand the danger this power struggle may have to his family. In the final scene, Mama allows Walter to make the decision over the house, shifting a large amount of the power to him. The result of Walter’s actions end with him leaving himself and family once again powerless because rather than being responsible with the money, he spends it all and ruins the hopes of himself and the family. Overall, Hansberry’s play is commenting on power dynamics by expressing that power must be earned.

Myriam Gurba’s memoir Mean conveys the concept of power throughout the novel by juxtaposing the powerful and the powerless in various contexts. The book entails the narrator, Myriam Gurba, living with her own PTSD from being sexually assaulted,  as well as being haunted by the death of Sophia Torres. Sophia Torres was raped and murdered by the same man that attacked Gurba. Sophia’s story haunts Gurba throughout the book because it could have easily been Gurba that did not survive. In describing these scenes of sexual assault, Gurba directly contrasts the powerful attacker versus the powerless victim through each individual’s actions in these situations. Victims of sexual assault often find themselves helpless with their fate left up to their attacker. The attacker feels powerful with this choice in their hands. For example, when Gurba is describing the rape and murder of Sophia Torres she states, “He presses his blade to her skin and slides it along her cheekbone. Black oozes from the slit. Wrecking her makes him feel like she belongs to him” (2).  Here Gurba’s shocking excerpt portrays a criminal’s idea of power. Gurba wants to highlight the man’s desire for power and his abuse of it over women sexually. Gurba describes the man’s intentions of treating her like an object that belongs to him. Feeling that “she belongs to him” shows the powerlessness that the victim feels, versus the desire for power seen through the actions of the attacker.

Towards the end of Mean, Gurba also conveys  power through her decision to graduate with a degree in history. History was the place where Gurba first experienced sexual assault when she was molested by McCauley. One might expect that she would hate history for the trauma that it McCauley inflicted on her during this class at a young age. Instead, Gurba states “yeah, history class was where I got molested. Nonetheless, I couldn’t stop taking history classes. I really like history (150).  Instead she took history back, claiming that instead of ruining her, “history made her cum laude” (157). She took a powerful stance and was able to move on and turn her traumatic experience into something positive. This depicts the concept of power by showing that Gurba has complete control over her own life.

Both these situations convey the idea of power in the sense of control. The example of Sophia Torres’ assault conveys the attacker’s desire for power that stems from his need to have complete control. His actions depict his abuse of power through treating Torres like an object that “belongs to him” (2). In addition, Gurba’s actions in taking back history represent the desire for power to take control of one’s own life.

The word power is a word that has multiple meanings in literature. Power can be defined in both Myriam Gurba’s Mean and Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun,  as the desire for and abuse of control. In A Raisin in the Sun, Walter wants to control the family’s finances, and the lives of his family members in order to do so. His desires stem from the pressures of masculinity he feels in trying to fill his father’s shoes and be the man of the house. He tries to sway Beneatha away from her dreams and take that money to start his dream of opening a liquor store to support his family. He attempts to steal the money to take control of the family. Doing so would give him control over Beneatha as well as the rest of his family’s future. In Myriam Gurba’s Mean, both the desire for power as well as the abuse of it convey the definition of power. Through the shocking scenes of sexual assault, Gurba conveys the abuse of power by an attacker in a situation of rape. In addition, Gurba graduating with a degree of history conveys power. She takes action and takes control of her life. She turns a traumatic experience into something she aims to build a life around. Both books depict examples of the ways power can be used to build a stronger meaning of the story and help create a deeper understanding of an author’s purpose.


Work cited

“Dictionary by Merriam-Webster: America’s Most-Trusted Online Dictionary.”

Merriam-Webster, Merriam-Webster, www.merriam-webster.com/.

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

Hansberry, Lorraine A. A Raisin in the Sun: Lorraine Hansberry. GMC Distribution, 2007

“Online Etymology Dictionary.” Index, www.etymonline.com/.

Image : https://unsplash.com/photos/RFXxBTHze_M

 

Mean: Trauma and its Forever Lasting Effects

Myriam Gurba’s Mean is a bold memoir telling the tale of a mixed raced queer going through her adolescent years. The book is full of brutal honesty and blunt commentary adding humor to rather serious topics. Sexual assault is a prominent topic in Mean, the book opening with a detailed rape scene. The ending parts of her memoir depict the idea of PTSD and the long lasting effects of traumatic memories from her personal experiences of sexual assault. It shows Myriam trying to move through the rest of her life as an adult woman in the world. As she is trying to move on , and overcome her past, the memories and past trauma keeps creeping their way back in, creating a lasting effect on her.

By the end of the book, Myriam is coming to terms with her past and taking back her life in her own unconventional way, attempts to sleep with married men. She sees this  as a coping method, confronting “the chaos of memories” (154) that stem from her traumatic experiences of sexual assault head on. Sleeping with a man is her attempt at making her past sexual experiences her single view of sex. Gurba begins describing how “some memories are too personal to be recorded” (154) or shared with others. Traumatic memories stay with people replaying in their minds. Sophia did not survive to allow her story to replay in her own mind, so her story stuck with Myriam. Myriam, who suffered from the same attacker, see’s life in a sexual way even in something so little as a donut. There was a donut titled “The Michael Jackson: a chocolate cake donut covered in white powdered sugar” (163). While her friends see the food as racist, she was thinking about the accusations of him molesting kids. Her experience followed her everywhere, conveying the PTSD she lives with, creating thoughts and images in her head.

Myriam carrying around Sophia’s story results from the guilt she feels about surviving. They were attacked in similar ways by the same man, only Sophia did not survive. Myriam was fortunate in that she survived but  she “felt guilty about being alive” (168) and that Sophia was less fortunate. When reading this section of the book I remembered from Gurba’s interview that she states “for 20 years I carried around a lot of survivor guilt because I share a lot in common with the other victim that didn’t survive.” This forced me to recognize how common these situations are for women around the world , and how little attention is brought to the situations and victims. In addition, it struck me as odd that she would feel guilty for living. I would not have thought one who was lucky enough to live would feel in the wrong.

Gurba discusses how not all victims want to be known for the awful things they have gone through. Trauma is an individual experience that Myriam feels partly should remain private. Gurba kept details to herself , internally coping with the ambush of the horrid past trauma when things trigger a memory. She overcame her experience and made herself stronger from it. She was first molested in History class by McCauley. Although history was a traumatic scarring experience Gurba states that that “history made me cum laude” (156). She took back history as she “reclaimed the destructive power” of genitalia “for her own use” (146) through sleeping with a married man. She took her traumatic experiences and turned them into something else.

There is a particular theme in this section that is made up of all Myriam’s thoughts and feelings that I have discussed. Even though she has moved forward in her life, the trauma from her past keeps reappearing. She states how she has stopped obsessing about Sophia and that she “never lets herself think about Sophia” (157). Just when she thinks she has moved past it, she begins obsessing about the Black Dahlia. She cannot escape the  traumatic experiences similar to the ones she has gone through. The idea of sexual assault and her attack remain forever in her mind living through stories of experiences that other woman who have not survived went through. These thoughts are constantly triggered through simple concepts such as a name, like Michael Jackson. Her PTSD is woven in throughout her book depicting the long lasting effect her attack has and will have on her. In the ending we see Gurba moving on, getting married, living her life, then these thoughts come creeping back in?

 

Discussion:

(1)-Can you find any moments or quotes in the book where something is triggering her PTSD? ( example donut / name Michael Jackson)?

 

(2)-Lets see if we can think of very minor examples of PTSD from our own childhood. Have you had a bad experience or memory that has created an irrational fear, or scarring moment in your life?

 

Found Poem Maddie Tichy

Sexual harassment           a formal complaint

       Not              worth it  

          no          back up.

Students take the hit           victims

 Victim             Least powerful        

                      having to adjust

     future      

“Trouble maker”          in a small office

When speak up              victims. 

Against powerful-           banded together

New process        “handling”

slow moving.            Unconvincing

    women         bullied out

Of careers   women

       victims.

For my found poem I aimed to create a hallowed outlined of work, where many of the details are left out. For my poem I tried to write in this style to make one specific situation fit the issues that many who undergo similar situations face. Sexual harassment is a widespread issue that women are affected by in all different ways. Although each individual woman has their own story, many of the basics are the same. That is what I was aiming to depict in this poem, the basic structure of these situations. Situation sot sexual harassment begin with the incident as well as the decision as to whether or not to report it or file a complaint. Women are forced to decide with the possibility that they will not receive backup and support. Without the support they become the victims, with reputations that bar them from future jobs and ruin their image at current jobs. These are common issues that are often found to be the base of many sexual harassment incidents.  In my poem, I eliminated the specific details of the one woman’s story in the article I read. Her specific issue sparked my anger towards the topic as a whole, inspiring me to write my poem as a more general outline of the issue of sexual harassment.

 

 

When I grow up I wanna be a List of Future Possibilities: Analysis of Chen Chen’s poetry

Hearing Chen Chen read his poems aloud gave me a whole new take on his writings. I studied his poetry in my Intro to poetry class, specifically his poem titled “To the Guanacos at the Syracuse Zoo.” Studying his writing of this poem, I expected him to be an outgoing sarcastic individual. However, when I actually heard him read his own poems he was very soft spoken and almost shy seeming. His poetry is much more subtle in its sarcasm in his own reading versus when one reads the poem themself. The subtle sarcasm and humor add to the uniqueness and cleverness of his work. This technique was very apparent in his second poem he read about angels. He repeatedly contradicts himself in a comical way stating how he isn’t religious, yet talks about god and an angel consistently. He says these figures are “creatures he made up” yet he “misses them.” These slight sarcastic contradictions make the poem innocent and humorous.

In addition to his subtle humor and sarcasm, Chen Chen’s incorporation of outside references including movies and songs. He incorporated coldplay songs and ideas to add to the sad melancholic tone of some of his poems. He also uses movies, but not as much for tone but for references and ideas. He used references from both Home Alone as well as Buffy the Vampire Slayer to his works. These allusions make the poems more relatable and familiar for readers. These references help to make his works so unique and interesting for readers.

I found that watching and hearing Chen Chen read his work created an entirely different view of his works. I feel that his works hook the reader and keep them interested the whole way through the poems. I really enjoyed seeing him in person and hearing the writer himself reading his poems the way he wrote them and intended for them to be heard.

Teacher-Scholar (extra credit 9/27)

On September 27th I attended an event called Teacher-Scholar: a Conversation with New Faculty in the English Department.” This event took place in Corey Union’s Fireplace Longue and allowed me to talk and connect in an informal manner with members of SUNY Cortland’s english department. The panel consisted of four members of the school’s faculty that are new to campus this year. Laura D, Danica Savonick, Jeffrey Jackson, and Katie Ahern provided me, as well as the rest of the group, with extensive information on what it means to truly be a teacher let alone a professor. Each spoke of how they incorporate their own interests into the classroom and implement them into certain aspects of their class. For example, Jeffrey Jackson talked of his passion for technology and how some semesters he aims to be paperless. Specifically he used technology in an experiment in the posting of his assignments on blackboard. Jeffrey made it so that in order to do one assignment, you must do all because the next assignment would only appear and unlock after the previous one was completed. This showed his implication of his interests into how he runs his classroom. This aso represented building towards a goal. By locking the assignments Jeffrey said it was “as if one must get over one hurdle before they take on the next one.” I thought this was a brilliant idea in that it allowed him to incorporate his own personal interests into the classroom in a way that teaches students a bigger life lesson.

 

Jeffrey Jackson specifically stuck me as extremely interesting in providing his insight about teaching as a whole. He stressed two particular ideas that I believe are extremely essential in being an educator. The first was the idea of failure. Jeffrey stated that failure is a learning experience and teachers “must recognize failure and provide students with room to fail, learn, and come back stronger on the other side of it.” Although failure is  an extremely frightening idea in a public classroom setting, without it students would not personally experience the idea of continuing on in hopes of preserving next time. In addition to failure Jeffrey also stressed the importance of an instructor multitasking. He said that “teachers are seen as just providing information to students, but it is so much more that that. One must gather information about their students and their trend/vibe as their teaching in order to find methods that work best for these individuals. This leads to experiments in lesson plans with the notion that this technique may very well fail completely.

 

I thought that all these speakers gave us as students amazing insight as to how much work they do behind the scenes of the classroom. I also was fascinated in how they discussed confidence in the sense that they know that there is realistically a possible chance that their lesson plans could fail completely, or their interactive activities may fall apart. The message that I truly got from this seminar was that educating others is all about trial and error, and working with students in ways that is best for their learning. All in all I thought the discussion was extremely enlightening and I am grateful that these are the types of people SUNY Cortland is bringing into their faculty year after year.