Farewell to the daring adventure: White

Delaney Keenen, Shania Miller, Kailey Valenti

White:

  1. being a member of a group or race characterized by light pigmentation of the skin
  2. [ from the former stereotypical association of good character with northern European descent ] : marked by upright fairness
  3. conservative or reactionary in political outlook and action (“white”)

Etymology: Cognate with Old Frisian, Old Saxon, Old High German, Old Icelandic, Old Swedish, Old Danish, and Old Dutch influences, all in a similar range of senses; further cognate with (with different ablaut grade) wheat n.; probably further related to the Indo-European base of Sanskrit śveta white, bright, śvit- to be white or bright, Avestan spaēta white, Old Church Slavonic svĭtěti to shine, světŭ light, Lithuanian šviesti to shine, although the relationship is difficult to explain phonologically.

        In her coming of age novel, Mean, Myriam Gurba recounts her experiences in a darkly humorous manor. The true crime memoir tells of the hardships Gurba faced growing up as a gay, mixed-raced Chicana. Through the use of dark humor, Gurba voices her outrage on the privilege white folk hold in modern day western civilization. She takes the word “white” and gives it several underlying meanings that present themselves through the novel. She takes the word and turns creates a connotation of negativity, devaluation, and separatism.

       Gurba uses the word “white” in a way that doesn’t just define the specific color of a person’s skin but rather uses it in a way that devalues it to any other common word. Gurba writes, “…[T]o be in love with a [white] girl…I felt for this white girl…All the [white] girls I fall for are the same…This [white] girl…” (Gurba 57). Throughout the novel, Gurba refers to white girls as just that, rather than names; “White girls.” With the repetitive nature of Gurba’s writing—and the refusal to acknowledge names—Gurba is taking the power from “white.” She reverses the roles from minorities to white and dehumanizes the girls of white race.

Gurba challenges the less than inclusive notion of white dominance–white supremacy: the belief that white people are superior to all other races. When speaking of Western Civilization—the United States in particular–76.6% of the population is white, 13.4% African American/black, 18.1% Hispanic, 1.3% Native American, 5.8% Asian (U.S.).  Gurba writes, “[White] girls are the holy grail of Western civilization. I wish they could be replaced with something else. Let there be a new grail” (Gurba 60).Gurba doesn’t bother with sugar coating the obvious; white girls are the poster image for western civilization. Gurba is pushing the boundaries of the picture perfect white girl image of Western Civilization. She is claiming the unjust nature of the lack of inclusiveness to other races. With the already privileged nature the word white holds, Gurba believes that the words “holy grail” and “white” should not be associated with each other. Whites are a constant in Western Civilization–a constant that doesn’t need special privileges when compared to minorities.  

Gurba also comments on the effortless power whites hold to survive. Gurba writes, “When do you think [white] girls will go extinct? We are more than a decade into the twenty-first century, and I see no indication of their decline” (Gurba 60). With no mention of another race, Gurba writes about the inquiry of the downfall of the “white” girls. Under the constant attack of racism, minorities are under constant threat of facing extinction. No race leaves untouched by unjust actions due to a prejudice mindset of those different from them; no race aside from being white. Again, Gurba reminds her audience of the never ending presence of white people and their characteristic of prevailing through all.

        In addition,  Gurba, often uses the word “white” as a negative term which exemplifies Gurba’s feelings about white people. She uses the word to identify the people she interacts with, to create a sense of separatism between races, and to describe why she feels fearful. She says,

“The white girls sat on the opposite side of the classroom, in desks facing ours. They blinked at us. We blinked back. I raised my hand. The English-only teacher said, “Go ahead.” I pointed at the lot of them and said, “They call us wetbacks and tell us to go back to Mexico. Those girls are racists. And she’s not even Mexican.” I pointed at Ida. Ida nodded. White lower lips quivered. White eyes grew glassy. One by one, white girls burst into tears. Ida and all the Mexican girls looked at each other, like seriously? “Apologize for making them cry,” said the English-only teacher. “Sorry,” I said without any sincerity.” (Gurba 20)

In this quote, Gurba is symbolizing separatism. She creates an image of division when she mentions that the white girls and the Mexican girls are seated on opposite sides of the classroom. Gurba identifies the white girls as racists, because of their discriminatory words. She uses the word “white” to identify specific body parts on the white girls, their lips and their eyes. This implies that their race transcends just their skin color, and so it affects multiple parts of their beings. Similar to the negative exaggeration of the anatomy of people of color, Gurba is applying the same thought process to her white counterparts. Gurba may also be trying to use the word “white” as her own discriminatory word against them. The chapter ends with the teacher forcing Gurba to apologize to the white girls even though the white girls were the ones in the wrong. This passage shows how the inequality caused by the division of races and the blatant superiority displayed by her white peers affected Gurba at such a young age. Gurba often use “white” as a negative characteristic, furthermore, she refers to her internal struggle with inequality and race as a “game”. She writes, “I’m going to call this white girl Shaquanda. White people love to appropriate things. By naming the white girl Shaquanda I’m beating them at their own game.” (Gurba 22) Gurba refers to most people she interacts with by their skin color. Gurba’s language shows that she feels that it will always be white people versus non-white people. This further exemplifies the separation she feels from white people, because of the inequality she, her family, and other non-white Americans have experienced.

To Gurba, whiteness inflicts fear. She writes, “Digesting the sight of so many white faces made my hands tremble.” (Gurba 22) Though this last quote isn’t lengthy, it’s extremely powerful. Throughout Mean, Gurba often uses comedy to express the anger she feels towards white people and the inequality caused and continued by them. In this quote, Gurba utilizes description when mentioning how the sight of white people makes her hands tremble. This shows the fear Gurba experiences instead of just the anger or the separatism. Gurba utilizes the word “white” to display her emotions surrounding the word, and to show how the word and its history has affected the equality of people of color.

By using the word white, Gurba is expressing how the concept of whiteness affects a majority of moments throughout her life. She talks about her interactions with white people and how she thinks of them by also using humor. Her humor is harsh and quite dark. Gurba also uses the word “white” to separate her from the group of white individuals. She talks about them being different from her and makes it well know in her story. She quotes “Having white neighbors began the process. Their lifestyle differed from ours” (Gurba 6). In this quote, Gurba is telling her readers that having white neighbors is a new start for her. Being that they are white and she is of mixed races her lifestyle is different from theirs. “It took me years to figure out that white people are white people and that that’s not necessarily a good thing.” (Gurba 6). When Gurba realized that white people were white people she did not think highly of them. This is because of her crucial experiences with white people and the way they treated her and other people like her. By them saying harmful things and displaying prejudice towards her, she considered being white to not be a good thing. Her caution of whiteness also helped to clarify dealing with the differences between her and white people. Gurba also mentioned “Mom’s bone structure put the white mom’s to shame. Her cheekbones were so there and lushy sculpted that they made the white mom’s face look like mash potatoes from a box. Not that the white mom was ugly. Her face just didn’t exude foreign- lady sexiness the way Mom’s did. The white mom’s face exuded Puritanism. Margaine. Thrift. The absence of fun.” (Gurba 6). In this quote Gurba, openly discusses the differences between her mom and the white’s mom facial features. She is clarifying that she thinks her mom is better looking than the white mom because of the way her mom’s face is structured. Even though Gurba says that the white mom is not ugly she expresses how much her face did not have “foreign-lady sexiness” and lacked fun.

In her novel, Mean, Gurba utilizes the term “white” to challenge white dominance in modern western civilization, to identify her relationship and separatism with people who are white, and to give a name to a force which has impacted her day to day life in a negative way since childhood. Though Gurba expresses her feelings about the word through humor, she makes sure that her audience understands the severe impact these injustices have had on her and other non-white Americans lives. Barack Obama’s presidency caused most citizens to believe that we are living in a “post-racial” society, however, slavery was only abolished one hundred fifty-two years ago and segregation was only abolished fifty-four years ago. Relatively, this is not that long ago. Additionally, an article from The New York Times proved how our country’s racist history continues to affect people of color to this day. The article states that for every one hundred dollars of income a white family earns in America, a black family earns only fifty-seven dollars and thirty-three cents. Fortunately, many authors, like Gurba, have forced readers to think differently about whiteness, and the impact of the word, “white”.

 

Work Cited

Badger, Emily. “Whites Have Huge Wealth Edge Over Blacks (but Don’t Know It).” The New York Times, The New York Times, 18 Sept. 2017, www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/09/18/upshot/black-white-wealth-gap-perceptions.html.

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

Uncredited DOJ photographer. “US Marshals with Young Ruby Bridges on School Steps.” US Marshals with Young Ruby Bridges on School Steps, New Orleans , 29 July 2013, commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:US_Marshals_with_Young_Ruby_Bridges_on_School_Steps.jpg.

“U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts: UNITED STATES.” Census Bureau QuickFacts, United States Census Bureau, 1 July 2017, www.census.gov/quickfacts/fact/table/US/PST045217.

“White.” Merriam-Webster, Merriam-Webster, www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/white.

 

Close Reading

Hallie Garropy, Harmony Johnson, and Mike Flynn

Close reading

Close Reading

Close reading is specifically used in Literary Criticism, close criticism, close reading, etc. An example of close reading would be a critical and detailed analysis of a text. Close reading is also applied to the analysis of other works of art. The process of close reading begins by reading the text thoroughly, sometimes multiple times, and making observations about what is being read. Noticing anything that strikes you as surprising or significant, or that raises questions. Through this process, the reader should be looking for interesting literary devices and rhetorical features, structural elements, cultural or historical references, and/or tensions/oppositions. At this point, in the close reading process, the reader would begin looking for patterns that can lead to interpretations or conclusions based on the observations. Ultimately, close reading is the process of making observations that can lead to seeing the text or image in a new way. This process of close reading is relatively new to the literary world. It originally came from the concept of new criticism.

The revolutionary term, new criticism, emerged in the 1930s and 1940s. There are multiple methods of reviewing a work that makes up this concept of new criticism. Some of these methods include close reading, looking for evidence from the text, paying attention to the text itself, paying attention to the words on the page, and unpacking the words. This is when the term close reading began to come up and become a prominent method for reviewing a work or text.

Before the new critics, the method of interpretation focused on history, impressionism, moralizing, and reading aloud. New criticism was the method that sought to interpret a work through the literature itself, instead of through focus on everything that led to the work and everything the work makes people feel. Robert Dale Parker explains this saying, “To the new critics, criticism was not about vague impressions or feelings. It was about methodical interpretation” (Parker, p.14). This is when the shift in interpretation went from ‘how a work makes the reader feel’ to ‘what a work makes a reader think’. New critics argued that the best way to view a text is to interpret that text. They also believed that the best way to achieve these interpretations was through the process of close reading, paying careful, detailed attention to evidence from the text itself.

Close reading can help us read certain literary texts in a more nuanced and complex way by forcing the reader to look at details that don’t seem important on the first read through but once you start noticing these details, you can begin seeing patterns and understanding different meanings to the text. Through close reading, the reader can oftentimes catch humor and sarcasm, where they may have taken something at face value the first time through. Allows the reader to slow down, interpret the text, and uncover bigger ideas, issues, and problems that are not readily apparent in the text. It allows the reader to understand the text and not to just allow the text to wash over them and make no lasting impression. Ultimately, close reading is a method of viewing a text in a way that allows the reader to understand and think rather than simply feeling.

 

Close Reading Analysis:

The book entitled Mean, by Myriam Gurba, is about the author herself. She was sexually assaulted by a man and writes about the experience, along with many other experiences that occur throughout her life. These incidents are all weaved together throughout the book, allowing readers to understand the effect that the assault had on Gurba. The key to obtaining this understanding is the knowledge and use of close reading. After Gurba’s assault, it is clear she is feeling the desire to seek revenge. She writes, “It seemed like a good idea to have sex with someone and ruin his family. I wanted to see whether or not my pussy had the mettle for this. Males had co-opted my genitalia to prove their destructive powers, and I felt it was time to reclaim their destructive powers for my own use” (146). Gurba specifically mentions males ‘co-opting’ her genitalia to prove their ‘destructive powers’. She evidently feels violated and mentions further of her yearn to ‘reclaim’ their destructive powers. It is clear that Gurba is seeking out revenge, on a man, because of the violation that occurred to her. Even further, the result of the attack she faced was the experience itself never leaving her mind, fully. Another significant quote reads, “I really like the phrase ‘chaos of memories’. My spirit latches onto it and wraps its arms around its queer, hairy legs. The phrase expresses what kind of happens to your brain during and after trauma. Chaos roots itself in the memory. My chaos came when a man sexually assaulted me on a sidewalk in the afternoon sun” (154). Gurba is expressing the fear that has been placed inside of her memory. She even says that her chaos came the day that she was sexually assaulted her. From then on, the attack was embedded in her mind and memory.

Close reading is a great strategy to better your understanding of a text. It helps you analyze and really see beneath the words. A text that is a good example of this is A Raisin in The Sun by Lorraine Hansberry. A Raisin in The Sun is a very interesting text about a family that is just trying to get out of their poor lifestyle. They receive an insurance check for a large amount of money because their husband/father passed away. Their family was in a feud for a while on how the money should be spent and it caused a lot of turmoil. The mother spent most of the money purchasing an apartment in a white neighborhood and this was just the start of racism. This text specifically shows many examples of hidden racism that you would not be able to notice without using the strategy of close reading. One example of this is: “Today everybody knows what it means to be on the outside of something. And of course, there is always somebody who is out to take advantage of people who don’t always understand. (Hansberry 117). When using the strategy of close reading and taking a step back and really taking a look at who is talking, you will realize there is a deeper meaning to this statement. Racism plays a huge role in this play and this is just one of the few examples. Reading this quote alone, you wouldn’t know the context unless contributing close reading. A closer read into the text around this quote will show you that it is just the start of plenty of racism to come towards the youngers. Another example shows a clearer expression of racism by the man trying to get the Youngers to move out of their dominantly white neighborhood. “But you’ve got to admit that a man, right or wrong, has the right to want to have the neighborhood he lives in a certain kind of way.” (Hansberry 117). This is a similar context to the first quote. A deeper look into the reading and you can see that he is basically telling them that he doesn’t want them to live in the neighborhood but he is trying to get them to understand. He is attempting to make it sound like a rationale statement without it sounding racist. In this time period, there were still plenty of racists in the world the Youngers lived in. These people were willing to do illegal acts just to get the black family out of their nice white neighborhood. By just reading the quote you would not know any of this, closer reading allows you to get a background idea of the setting and situation so you can really understand what is going on in this specific scene.

 

Works Cited

“Close Reading as Genre.” ARCADE, arcade.stanford.edu/blogs/close-reading-genre.

Parker, Robert Dale. How to Interpret Literature: Critical Theory for Literary and Cultural Studies. Oxford University Press, 2015.

Photo Credit: stockfour via Pixabay

Gender- Chelsie, Megan M, Megan N

Gender is defined as “a subclass within a grammatical class (such as noun, pronoun, adjective, or verb) of a language, that is partly arbitrary but also partly based on distinguishable characteristics (such as shape, social rank, manner of existence, or sex), and that determines agreement with and selection of other words or grammatical forms” (Merriam- Webster Inc., 2018). The etymology of the word “gender” begins in the 1300s. From Douglas Harpers Online Etymology Dictionary, we found that the word started being used as a way to sort different kinds of things with similar and different traits. The word came from the French root “gendre”, and from the Latin stem “genus” meaning rank, order, or species. There are also origins in the root  “gene” meaning to generate or to birth. There are many derivatives of the word that pertains to procreation and familial roots. The word started to be used in a way that is more similar to its current use, in the 15th century. It was used to primarily describe male and female types, ideas, and objects. It wasn’t until the 20th century that the word gender was finally used as a way to refer to the male or female sex of a person or object (Etymonline.com). The year 2003 is considered to be the highest known use of the word, and the prevalence has slowly decreased to being at its lowest state of use today (Google Ngram).

There are many instances in the play A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry, where we see the use of either the word or the subject of gender at work. Hansberry wrote this play with her experience of being a young black woman in America. The play is set in Chicago in the 1950s, a time when sexism was rampant. During this time, gender roles consisted of women being housewives and were expected to stay at home or have a minor secretarial job; Men were the breadwinners of the household. In one section of the play, Hansberry sets a scene with dialogue that expresses the frustration resulted from the expected standards for specific gender roles in the Younger family. In this quote, Walter is showing his contempt for the fact that the women in his life, Beneatha, and Ruth, do not treat him like he is the respectable man of the house that he sees himself being. Hansberry writes, as Walter speaking to his wife Ruth, “That is just what is wrong with the colored woman in this world… Don’t understand about building their men up and making ‘em feel like they somebody”(34). Walter aspires to take on the role of his father but he has not been able to establish himself as the man of the house yet, which is a result of his lack of ability to find a good job. During this time in Chicago there was a serious lack of employment opportunities for African American men. Walter feels that he should be treated with respect from his wife and sister, due to being a man. He also feels that his wife Ruth, especially, should strive to build him up and make him feel better about himself. What Walter doesn’t realize is that Ruth has enough to worry about, like her newly discovered accidental pregnancy, her son, and not having enough room for everyone in the house. Walter expects his family to play into the gender roles of that time, but it just doesn’t match up with the situation that their family is currently in.

In another section of this play, Hansberry sets a scene where we see some insight into Walter and Ruth’s marriage. Walter says, “Just for a second- stirring them eggs. Just for a second it was-you looked really young again. (​He reaches for her; she crosses away. Then, drily​) It’s gone now- you look like yourself again!”(26). In this quote, we see how broken their marriage has become. We see how much Walter wants things in real life to match up with his dreams.This is having his beautiful wife take pleasure in caring for herself, cooking, and cleaning for him. Most of all he wants her respect, along with their son’s. However, over the years Ruth has been so disenchanted with Walter because of his problems, she has a hard time fitting into that role that he expects of her. She cannot pretend to be something she isn’t, in order to please her husband with unrealistic expectations.

Another situation in Hansberry’s play where we see the idea of gender in the dialogue is when Walter says, “Somebody tell me- tell me, who decides which women is supposed to wear pearls in this world. I tell you I am a man- and I think my wife should wear pearls in this world”(43). Walter has the idea that all proper women should wear a string of pearls around their neck. To illustrate the resistance against this idea, Hansberry created a strong feminist-like character, Beneatha, in order to demonstrate how and why women should fight against the idea of assimilation into society’s gender expectations for women. Hansberry also shows the idea of gender through Walter when he states, “Who the hell told you you had to be a doctor? If you so crazy ‘bout messing ‘round with sick people- then go be a nurse like other women- or just get married and be quiet…” (38). Walter thinks that being a woman and becoming a doctor is something that is so unheard of. Back then women DID NOT become doctors. It was more usual for a woman to become a nurse because men were the ones who were at the top with power. On top of the nurse comment Walter made, he went onto continuing that she should just go and get married. Meaning that women should just stay at home (cook and clean) and depend on the man of the house. Beneatha aspired to change that stereotype and become a doctor anyway.  

Beneatha is a woman who goes against every woman stereotype presented in the book. When other characters express their opinion about what Beneatha should be doing with her life, she immediately rejects their ideas. In regards to her love life many characters including her sister-in-law Ruth, and her two love interests, George and Asagai, do not agree with Beneatha’s opinions or life choices.

Asagai expresses to Beneatha his feelings for her and tells her that those feelings should be enough to make her happy in her relationship with him. Beneatha’s response to this is “I know- because that’s what it says in all the novels that men write. But it isn’t (enough). Go ahead and laugh- but I’m not interested in being someone’s little episode in America or – (With feminine vengeance)- one of them” (64)! Beneatha is resistant against doing what a man expects of her. Regardless of the situation, she refuses to be a quick relationship or one of the many females in Asagai’s life. Hansberry’s addition of  “with feminine vengeance” was an important side note in the text. According to dictionary.com, vengeance is termed as a desire for revenge, and the phrase with vengeance means “with force”. Here Hansberry exhibits the power behind the female force. The power behind women standing their ground against men and the expected roles society places on them.

Beneatha aspires to be a doctor. In this 1950s society, most people don’t support a woman holding a powerful job. Gender plays a role in which jobs are seen as fit for different people. Beneatha experiences backlash from George and Ruth. Beneatha responds “… First I’m going to be a doctor, and George, for one, still thinks that’s pretty funny… I am going to be a doctor and everybody around here better understand that” (50)! The male role in this text shows their support of the idea of male supremacy in the context of a woman getting a good job. Beneatha is fed up with others not supporting her. The differing opinions of the expectations of a woman cause the reader to identify the source of the interpersonal conflict between characters.

The play A Raisin in the Sun written by Hansberry has many examples of how much of a gender-based society we had in the past and what is still going on in our present-day lives. This play was based on the time after World War II when societies were broken down and many racial and gender issues went on. Hansberry showed the theme of gender bias through the characters George and Asagai. She then went onto show the theme of gender through the character Walter, a plethora of times as well. After this it was shown and explained through the character Beneatha that women do not need to abide by the “social norms” for women. Through all the stereotypical scenarios of a woman in the play, Beneatha did not stop explaining to others that her dream was to be a doctor and that nothing was going to get in the way of that. Many people tend to think that this type of social act did not really happen or is not happening. Hansberry showcased in many ways the idea of gender in her play to prove that it did happen and the effect it had on the people living during it.

 

Work Cited

Hansbery, Lorraine. A Raisin in the Sun. Vintage, 1958

Online Etymology Dictionary: “Gender” 2001-2018 Douglas Harper. Accessed November 29, 2018.    https://www.etymonline.com/word/gender

 

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?

 

Victimization And Its Consequences & The Power Of A Memory

The book entitled Mean, by Myriam Gurba, expresses ideas concerning victimization, consequences, and memory. The end of the book only reinforces this, while providing specific examples. Gurba discusses how she became a victim of sexual assault. The end of the book is where readers get to see some of the consequences of being a victim and the power that a memory holds.

Gurba goes on about her life and talks about various events that occur throughout it. Towards the end of the book, Gurba is past the point of discussing her assault but goes into topic of ideas she plans to carry out.  She states, “It seemed like a good idea to have sex with someone and ruin his family. I wanted to see whether or not my pussy had the mettle for this. Males had co-opted my genitalia to prove their destructive powers, and I felt it was time to reclaim their destructive powers for my own use” (146).  By this, Gurba is seeking out revenge on men. Because of her sexual assault, she feels she wants to turn the male’s destructive powers around on themselves. She is looking to hurt them, in a different way than they hurt her, but still in a powerfully painful way.

Memory holds a lot of power as well. Part of the consequences of victimization is a memory and it’s lingering presence. Gurba also experiences the power of a memory and what it can do to the brain. She states, “I really like the phrase ‘the chaos of memories’. My spirit latches onto it and wraps its arms around its queer, hairy legs. The phrase expresses what kind of happens to your brain during and after trauma. Chaos roots itself into the memory. My chaos came when a Mexican man sexually assaulted me on a sidewalk in the afternoon sun” (154). Gurba found a quote that she can relate to; ‘the chaos of memories.’ Her assault has left her scared with trauma, we know this because of this quote. She says that chaos roots itself into the memory and that her chaos came after her assault. The simple fact that she brought up the assault again and discusses how it digs itself into one’s memory shows how she was affected by this. She continues to bring up her assault throughout the book, this is a side effect of her trauma. Not only does the memory of the assault stick with her, but also the memory of the girl who was murdered by the same man who assaulted her. Gurba says,”…but dead and dying girls have a way of taking up vivid residence in the post-traumatic brain” (164). This is yet another side effect of trauma and the power of memory. Gurba is constantly thinking about these negative topics that have to do with her assault. She will be forever affected by this.

However, this effect may have to do with her love of history. She says, “Yeah, history class was where I got molested. Nonetheless, I couldn’t stop taking history classes. I really love history. Everything has a history” (150). Despite her negative history, Gurba is interested in learning all about history. Shortly after this is mentioned, we find out that she becomes a history teacher (162). This is ironic considering how badly influenced her memory and history were to her. It may not be good for her to be teaching history because it could institute thought for her past. Negative thoughts could have the potential to be picked up quickly.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Is there a memory that had an impact on you? (it can be good or bad) What was that impact?
  2. What are some of your own examples you could find from the book (pages 145-175) concerning ‘the power of memory’?

 

Gurba’s Mean

Myriam Gurba’s Mean is most often described as a memoir and also a considered a ghost story. As you open up the book you’re automatically dragged into her world and her thoughts. She talks about her life growing up in California as a bilingual girl of Mexican and Polish descent. Gurba starts off the book by talking about the sexual assault of a woman named Sophie Loren in the section named “Wisdom”. Loren was raped and murdered on the baseball diamond in the area know as Oakley Park in Gurba’s town. When I first read these three pages about Sophie Loren it reminded me of one of my favorite tv series known as Law and Order: Special Victims Unit. The show is about detectives investigating crimes of sexual nature just like what happened to Sophie Loren. On the first page, Gurba wrote ” She reaches into her purse. Mexican hair falls across her face. It won’t look like that much longer. A man wearing white clothes creeps around the corner of the snack bar. He creeps up behind the girl and swings a pipe. It hits her in the head and her knees buckle”(1). The way Gruba describes what is taking place reminds me of how most of the episodes may start. Just a lady walking on a dark night then boom she is knocked unconscious and taken advantage of. I think by Gurba discussing the sexual assault of Sophie in the beginning influences readers to keep in mind that what happened to Sophie is also happening constantly around the world and not just in one place.

Gruba also continues to talk about sexual assault and molestation from her own perspective. We learn that in the section “Senorita” that she herself is molested in her seventh-grade history class by a boy named Macauly. We also learn that her being molested in her history classroom is not a one-time thing and that it happens constantly. Gruba stays quiet because she feels if she asks for help she will be portrayed as the “bad guy”(25). On page 27, Gruba is in relief that the class watched The Simpsons because she was free from being molested by Macauly. Even when her Dad asks her about her day at school she refuses to tell him what has been happening to her. Instead, she tells him that they just watched The Simpsons in class. Till this day there are women who do not speak up on when they have been sexually assaulted and refuse to get help. Most woman may feel as Gruba had felt as being worried about it being their fault.

As Gruba continued to deal with the unwanted attention she unhappily obtained from Macauly, She had thought if only her teacher would see what he was doing to her maybe he would help stop it. On page 31, Gruba discusses how her history teacher Mr. Hand had finally seen what was happening to her and did not say or do anything. She says ” I looked into Mr.Hand’s unprepared eyes. He looked me in mine. Mr. Hand’s face, neck, and, scalp went from light pinkish to cherry tomato”. This just shows that even though he saw what was happening to Gruba he could not believe what he was seeing. I feel like Mr.Hand was not really expecting to see what he saw and did not know how to react so he did nothing at all by avoiding the issue and acting as if nothing was happening. I feel as most people today if they would experience a moment like this would often say they would do something about it, But when the situation really happens they end up doing nothing at all. I would think someone would hope to not have to see this happening ever but it does happen in certain situations and it takes only one person to speak up and say something.

Mean is an outstanding book so far which has a tendency of catches the reader’s attention including mine like every book should. To read about her struggles and what she has gone through is tough, but she has a great sense of humor to push you along the way. Also, Her speaking about Sophie’s sexual assault and her molestation brings more awareness to sexual assaults that occur daily around the world.

Questions:

Were there any sections of Mean that reminded you of something you have watched or seen?

If you were in Mr. Hand’s situation and saw what was happening to Gruba what would you do in that very moment?

The best I can wish for you is bad luck.

Mean, by Myriam Gurba, is an unabashed comedic recount of the author’s experience growing up in Southern California as a young mixed-race girl. She covers topics from sexual assault, racism, and sexism to reconciling her own sexuality from a young age, all in a tone of deadpan humor. Gurba’s writing style is a combination of poetry and short story prose, which allows her to say a lot in a short amount of space. The first two pages, the short story titled ‘Wisdom’ is an unexpected and brutal story of a rape and murder of a Mexican girl named Sophia Loren. The press described the scene as “the bludgeoning death of a transient in Oakley Park.” This description reduces her to transience and ignores her name. In Greek, Sophia means Wisdom; hence the title of this short story. All of the titles Myriam Gurba chose for her pieces have a significant connection to the message she is trying to relay in each piece, but they are not always clearly spelled out for the reader as it is in the opening story. Can you find a connection between the title of the short story and explain how it is correlated with the message of that particular story? Use quotes from the text to support your claim.

Her father being Polish and her mother Mexican, they each agree to speak to her in their native language as she grew up to help her learn to be bilingual at a young age. This can prove to be confusing for a young mind. She went into nursery school thinking they were all the same language. In the English language there are many words that have more than one meaning. The same is true in Spanish, some words mean different things depending on the context of the sentence, or placing an accent over one letter of the word instead of another can completely change its meaning. The author plays with this concept, jovially in the last paragraph of the short story, ‘English is Spanish.’ She uses Spanish words that have a different meaning if used in a different context and if the accent was not there or in a different place. For example “cómo estas?” translates to “how are you?” and “como éstas” translates to “like these.” Looking at the paragraph, there is a lot of humor which could be lost in translation if you are unfamiliar with the Spanish language. Luckily for me, I am taking Spanish 102 so I was able to translate it without too much difficulty.

“On my first day, yo hablé con mis nursery school maestras usando palabras como éstas because I assumed we all had the same words. I didn’t know I was spewing ciphers fed to me by a foreigner. I didn’t know Mexicans were Mexicans, a category some mistake for subhuman, a category my grandfather mistakes for divine. I thought of myself as a person, and I understood people. People were people, and people talked, and talking was for everyone. Today I understand that words are for everyjuan, but that not everyjuan is for every word, so please, dear reader, si no te molesta demasiado, pass me the metaphorical French fries as you whisper what you wish had been the first un-American words to pass through your uncorrupted lips.” (5)

This paragraph translated in English means:

“On my first day, I spoke with my nursery school teachers using words like these because I assumed we all had the same words. I didn’t know I was spewing ciphers fed to me by a foreigner. I didn’t know Mexicans were Mexicans, a category some mistake for subhuman, a category my grandfather mistakes for divine. I thought of myself as a person, and I understood people. People were people, and people talked, and talking was for everyone. Today I understand that words are for everyone, but that not everyone is for every word, so please, dear reader, if it doesn’t bother you too much, pass me the metaphorical French fries as you whisper what you wish had been the first un-American words to pass through your uncorrupted lips.” (5)

This paragraph, especially the final sentence, is a bit jarring and abrasive as she is directly addressing the reader in such a harsh tone. She also plays with the word ‘Everyone’ changing it, twice out of the three times it is used in the paragraph, to become ‘Everyjuan’ a play on the word to relate it back to Mexican culture.  Were there any other parts in the text that jumped out to you as humorous or caught you off guard, either playing with language or how the author made light of a dark situation?

Reflection:

All of the titles Myriam Gurba chose for her pieces have a significant connection to the message she is trying to relay in each piece, but they are not always clearly spelled out for the reader as it is in the opening story. Can you find a connection between the title of the short story and explain how it is correlated with the message of that particular story? Use quotes from the text to support your claim.

Were there any other parts in the text that jumped out to you as humorous or caught you off guard, either playing with language or how the author made light of a dark situation?

Mean: A Necessary Evil

Myriam Gubra’s mean is an autobiographical account of Gubra’s life growing up as a Mexican-Polish woman in the western U.S.A. Gubra tells stories that range from funny recollections of quirky neighbors to harrowing memories of sexual assault. Throughout the text, Gubra retains the same lighthearted, humorous tone. Gubra is personable, and while I became more invested in her life through reading the text, I began to get the feeling that I knew her personally at some point in my own life. This strange familiarity I found in Gubra made me pity her, especially when she talks about a classmate, Macaulay repeatedly molesting her in class. These feelings of pity are heightened as the attacks become more frequent and more severe. Every time it happens, I am left wondering why she didn’t take her father’s sagacious advice. Why didn’t she chose to be mean?  The advice is given when a young Gubra asks why bad things happen. Her father wisely responds: “Myriam, think of how boring life would be if nothing bad ever happened” (Gubra 16). This was great advice, the kind that lingers in the minds of children and stays with them, even when they have their own families. Although this advice was great, it wasn’t proactive. Sure, Myriam’s story about being groped in class is interesting and scary, but she would have been better off if she didn’t have that story to tell. Sometimes, bad things just happen, whether they be interesting or not, but I think the world can agree that we would all settle for a less interesting life of serenity.

Gubra has a fascinating interest in names and their meanings. This is evident throughout the text, she will name a peer or another significant individual, and then explain the meaning of their name. I only noticed it a few times, no more than two or three, but, nonetheless I thought it was interesting and it stuck with me. The first time is in the very beginning. After she tells the story of a young woman’s brutal rape and mutilation, she gives the meaning of her name, the name that sticks with her and haunts her. Gubra explains: “It appears many times in the Bible: Sophia. In Greek, sophia means wisdom” (Gubra 3).  Another instance of this attention to designation occurs when when she mentions a male classmate. Gubra writes: “One climber, Reymundo, in English, king of the world” (Gubra 14). This example isn’t as grim as the first, as Reymundo was just a daring classmate of hers. His name doesn’t seem to haunt her as Sophia’s does, but, despite this, she thought it was important enough to elaborate on, and this fact alone is intriguing. It left me wondering where she acquired this interest and why is it such a significant aspect of the text.

As Gubra tells stories of her life growing up in the western United States, we learn of the struggles she faced because of her racial identity. Some things were small, imitating the microaggressions we saw  in Claudia Rankine”s Citizen. An example of this occurs when she visits her white neighbors while her mother gives birth, she asks what they’re making for dinner, and the mother responds, cheerfully: “Since you’re visiting, Mexican” (Gubra 6) Although it wasn’t malicious or overtly racist, her decision to prepare her strange rendition of “Mexican food” was without a doubt racially motivated. Although this was a cringe inducing moment of the text, this moment pales in comparison to the blatant racism that Gubra faces at school. She is battered with racial slurs, she notices that white adults treat her differently than they do her white peers, and she is often made out to be the bad guy in race related situations. Gubra tells the story of an altercation between the white and hispanic students. Despite the fact that it was the white students who are berating the hispanic students with racial slurs and other terrible things, when the teachers gather all of the girls together to come to a solution, the outcome is ironic to say the least. Gubra calls the girls out on their racist antics, and they begin to cry. This action prompts the teacher to tell Gubra to apologize. Even after all of the harassment and the name calling, Gubra is the one being blamed. Just because a teacher emphasized with the faces that were more similar to their own, Gubra is told to apologize for defending herself. Although this is disappointing, it isn’t a surprise, these kinds of situations are just another aspect of day to day life for people of color.

Mean is an interesting and somewhat thrilling read, it makes me feel as if i was thumbing through the pages of a comic book, just without the illustrations. Gubra is like some kind of feminist superhero, and I look forward to continuing with her through the text on her coming of age journey.

Questions:

What is the significance of your own name?

Have you ever been in a situation where you were completely right and you still had to apologize? How did this make you feel?

Issue Brief

I chose my found poem on a brief of Trump’s executive order on refugees and travel ban. Without getting too political, I’m going to try and express why I chose this. Last year, when this order was released there was a lot of outrage among the people of the United States. I was one of those outraged citizens. As someone who was fortunate enough to grow up with a little more money than necessary, I was taught to always give and help when I can. I extend these beliefs to foreign policy in political terms. I have always believed–and will continue to–that if there is someone in need of help we should do everything in our power to aid them. To discriminate against seven countries in particular because there is a stereotype around the nationalities and religion amongst those people is inhumane. It’s dehumanizing the people in need of rescue from those countries. I decided to take this brief and turn the words into the reality of not what the United States is facing with immigrants and refugees, but what those who are denied entry to our country are facing back in their home country.

file:///Users/delaneykeenen/Downloads/Trump-EO-Refugees-TravelBan-FINAL.pdf