Friday, April 4, 2008

Reflective Essay

It was the first days of school when Biology had just ended. I walked slowly to English class, hoping to shave off as much time I spend in English class as possible. As I sauntered through the halls, memories of fear and anguish filled my mind with ghastly images of writing essays and poems. Growing up as an inexperienced writer, I developed distaste for English because I never understood what it took to be a good writer. I feared that I would not be able to do well in English because I never understood it well enough in the past. However, my initial viewpoints regarding proved to be wrong as my senior year in English class progressed.

The most inspiration piece of writing I wrote for class this year is the explication of Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. In this assignment I had to learn to incorporate the feminist perspective in my writing. At the same time I learned the feminist perspective, I also learned the psychoanalytical perspective. These two perspectives taught me to look far beyond the text and search for a deeper meaning and connection within the text in regards to the real world. It also taught me that there are various approaches in perspectives to explicating a piece of literature. When I first read the guidelines for the assignment, I did not believe that I was capable of writing an eight-page explication of passages in Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. This lengthy assignment would not have been successful if not for the guidelines I had to follow. At first I wrote an explication on two passages referencing wine imagery. This task was complex because the book happened to be difficult to understand. It was also difficult to incorporate the symbolism of wine to the text. Finishing the explication was a great ordeal, but when I discovered that I had to build upon the explication by incorporating the feminist perspective, I felt overwhelmed. I initially believed that there was no way that I can improve my already detailed explication. This new writing assignment rendered my previous thesis on the wine explication useless. I had to create a new thesis, which would incorporate a connection to my previous wine explication and the feminist perspective. The thesis proved to be the trickiest part of the assignment. However, after my thesis was thought up, the assignment seemed to piece together, allowing me to meet the criteria of the assignment and complete the task. This explication taught me that writing can always be strengthened and improved into a more detailed and better piece.

Formerly a quiet and shy individual, I was afraid of sharing my ideas with the class during class discussions. Progression throughout the year helped me develop the courage to speak in front of an audience. Sharing ideas with an audience does not seem nerve-racking at all! When ideas were shared I saw things in a new light. This assisted me in pursuing a new way of thinking. The explication of page 170 in the Humument is the most creative piece of writing I did this year. Instead of explicating a passage in text, I was explicating poetry combined with various elements of color and images. Understanding poetry had always been difficult for me. Art was never my forte. The assignment called for and explication both art and poetry, creating one of the most challenging piece of writing this year. To my surprise, the assignment did not seem too difficult when I actually put my full concentration into writing the explication. The assignment, however, did require a lot of thinking. As I wrote the explication, I began to have fun thinking of the various ways of to interpreting the artistic poem. I believe that the freedom to write in any way I wished allowed me to enjoy writing a little although the work was also stressful. After finishing the assignment, I was deeply satisfied with my work. I cannot believe that I am capable of producing such work at times when I reflect on my past writing assignments in high school at time. This assignment showed me that I have experienced a great change in writing style since the first day I stepped into English class.

Progression throughout the English class of my senior year has been a great learning experience for me. Enduring the difficulties of the writing assignments allowed me to develop into a better writer. It has also influenced me to see English in a more positive view. I am now more confident in my writing skills thanks to the positive critiques about how to improve my writing. Thank you Mr. G!!! You’re the best, absolute best English teacher ever!

Blessings of Chocolate

I had just purchased a bag of my beloved Lindt Milk Chocolate Truffles and anticipated unraveling the luscious and delectable candy out of its glimmering gold casing. As I placed the chocolate into my mouth, I began to fantasize about the pleasure that would soon consume me. The chocolate I grew to love ultimately devoured me; however it was not in the way I had wished. After the chocolate covered “bundle of joy” was released from my fingertips, it landed on my tongue and proceeded to venture down my throat where it became wedged. Unable to breathe, cough, or swallow, I felt betrayed by the friend I had held so dearly. As I struggled to free myself from this helpless state, the pain grew. The more I struggled, the more pain I felt. Although I was finally released from my confinement a few moments later, the elapsed time felt ceaseless. Feeling deceived and sinful, I dreaded to even look at chocolate ever again.

Give and take: a principle which I innately disregard due to my cultural background. Born under a strict Chinese family, I was taught from the day I was conscious of the world around me to “give” to others rather than to “take” from others. When I “take” from others, I feel momentarily gratified. As a result, I constantly seek a variety of methods to “give” back to others.

Months passed until my friend, Christina, decided it was time that I give chocolate a chance to redeem its benevolence back in my life. I was hesitant to listen to her advice, but I eventually gave in to her request. Slowly, she helped me conquer my fear. I am forever indebted to Christina for her assistance because I no longer fear chocolate. I can enjoy its mouth-watering greatness once again.

Understanding the bliss one can feel from receiving help, I sought to spread this feeling to others around me. Helping others surmount obstacles in their life had always been my passion. It brings me joy to know that I can be of assistance to others.

As I walked through the inviting, yet worn entrance of the church, I was immediately engulfed by an aura of despair. Crowds of eager recipients occupied the limited space available within the soup kitchen. I began to see a reflection of myself among the crowd; each one eager to calm one’s roaring stomachs just as I once anticipated indulging myself chocolate. I did not wish for this crowd of people to suffer as I had in the past. Hunger is agonizing to bear, even more than my trite experience without chocolate for so long. In order to make sure the crowd did not “choke” I immediately prepared the meals with haste. In this instance, I saw a reflection of Christina in myself; seeking the fastest way to satiate the crowd’s problems. After finishing my duties, I noticed a familiar sight amongst the once famished crowd. Glimmers of gratitude were apparent on each face.

The ability to lend a hand to those in need is my greatest achievement in life. I know from first hand experience the happiness and gratitude one feels when one triumphs over personal obstacles with the help of another individual. Now I “give” to others in need to provide them a little taste of happiness. These experiences taught me that life, like chocolate, can be bittersweet.

Every Visible Thing

"After dinner will be her bath, a lonely affair as she is now trusted to clean herself as long as the door remains open and she calls out every few minutes to say she is okay. Her mother will put Owen in his crib, installed in a curtained-off corner of Lena's room, and her father will grade papers while Hugh watches the news."

After Hugh and Lena finally arrive at home, they prepare to relax and eat dinner. There is a comfortable, relaxing tone in this passage. Carey expresses the actions of each Furey family member as though they are rituals. Each action has not occurred yet; however, they "will" happen eventually. Each family member is engaging in some sort of activity to keep occupied and be content. There are no family conflicts occurring; displaying an ideal happy family. Although it is calm at the Furey household, there is also isolation. No two family members are engaging in-group activities.

"After being tortured by all the popular girls in grammar school, I never thought I'd have a girl as a friend. But it's too complicated to be friends with boys in high school. Most of last year I had no friends at all, besides the desperate-to-sit-with-anyone lunch partners my first month. Because I didn't act as they did to have a shadow, I got a reputation for being a loner, and it made people assume I didn't want any friends at all. Sometimes I don't." (10)

Many years have passed since Hugh walked Lena home. Lena is in high school and Hugh is missing. It is not known whether Hugh is dead or just missing. Lena is a tomboy at this age. She is "tortured by all the popular girls" and does not have many friends. She is a "loner" and at times, she does not "want any friends". Lena's character is deeply affected by Hugh's disappearance. She has no social life due to her lack of friends. Lena's current situation is "complicated" because she still chases after Hugh's "shadow". Unable to overcome the trauma of losing her brother, Lena's life is falling downhill. She starts smoking and she starts failing her classes in school

Thursday, April 3, 2008

A Thousand Splendid Suns (Winter Break Reading Assignment)

Mariam, a harami (bastard), seeks love and an identity in life. As a child, she sought for the love of her father, Jalil. Nana warns her to stay away from men because “a man’s accusing finger always finds a woman” (323). Disregarding Nana’s advice because Mariam because Mariam has felt lonely for so long, Mariam searches for Jalil’s love. However, Jalil does not accept Mariam. He is ashamed and forces her to marry Rasheed. Mariam, broken-hearted follows Jalil’s wishes.

Immediately after marrying Rasheed, Mariam feels “prized by [Rasheed’s] protectiveness. Treasured and significant” (74) because she is valued for once. However, after many miscarriages, Rasheed’s attitude changes and he rejects Mariam by governing her entire life.

Mariam’s attitude changes when she meets Laila. Although jealous of Laila taking her previous role as a young wife, Mariam becomes a caring mother figure after Laila stands “up to [Rasheed]” (223) when Rasheed planned to beat Mariam. The friendship between Mariam and Laila initiates the build up of courage within Mariam. She realizes that there is something to live for in her life: to care for Laila and Aziza.

Marian displays the greatest change at the climax of the novel. Rasheed; finding out that Laila has been seeing Toriq, is overcome by rage and releases a murderous intent upon Laila. Laila struggles to fight back, but falls to his masculine strength. Mariam refuses to let Laila, a dear fried, die. Thus she “[raises] the shovel high” (311) and strikes it upon Rasheed’s head, killing him. Mariam becomes a person who is willing to fight to protect her loved ones at the end at the cost of her own life.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Hamlet's Soliloquy (Laurence Olivier) Explication

In Act 3 Scene 1, Hamlet ponders “to be, or not to be” (3.1.55). This question is curt, but proves to be enigmatic for Hamlet. Laurence Olivier’s acting depicts the true essence of Hamlet’s character as he recites Hamlet’s soliloquy. Hamlet’s state of mind is roused up by a turbulence of confusion as he contemplates on the question. Through the clashing forces within the scenery, movie effects and delivery of lines, Laurence Olivier performs Hamlet’s self struggle magnificently.

The setting of Hamlet’s soliloquy is portrayed within a black and white world. The colors black and white directly reflect Hamlet's conflict between life and death because white is symbolic of life and black is symbolic of death. While Hamlet delivers his soliloquy, his mind is absent of all colors because he focuses on his entire concentration on revenge.

The scene begins with a visual of waves crashing against the rocks of the cliff which Hamlet stands atop of. Hamlet gazes down the cliff at the view of these crashing waves. Hamlet does not merely stare at waves; he gazes upon a symbolic interpretation of his state of mind. Like crashing waves, Hamlet’s mind is in a state of turbulence. In the following scene, there is a think haze rustling about the sky as Hamlet broods over “to be, or not to be” (3.1.55). The dense clouds accompanied by the sounds of crashing waves as Hamlet asks the question suggests that Hamlet is in a state of deep perplexity about the matter at hand. Hamlet wonders whether it is “nobler… to suffer” (3.1.56) or nobler “to take arms against a sea of troubles” (3.1.58) by ending ones life. Hamlet then draws a knife and points it to his heart to signify his thoughts about ending life. According to Hamlet, death is no more than a “sleep to… end… heartache” (3.1.60-61). Hamlet closes his eyes and speaks to himself within his mind. He considers entering eternal slumber, but suddenly opens his eyes, draws back, and comes to a sudden realization that there is no telling “what dreams may come true, when [he has] shuffled off [his] mortal coil” (3.1.65-66). This quality of eternal slumber causes people to make “calamity of so long life” (3.1.68). Again Hamlet wonders “who would bear the whips and scorns of time” (3.1.69) when one “might his quietus make with a bare bodkin” (3.1.74-75). Hamlet seems to find suffering through countless times is pointless when one can easily suffer once painfully and end all suffering through death. According to Hamlet, the factor which prevents one from committing suicide is the “dread of something after death” (3.1.77). The knife falls from Hamlet’s hand and into the sea. Thinking so deeply of this matter has made a coward of Hamlet. He loses the chance to end his suffering because the knife is no longer there. Hamlet ends his soliloquy advising the viewer that moments “of great pitch… lose the name of action” (3.1.84-86) when one does not take the given chance at hand.

Laurence Olivier performs Hamlet’s soliloquy best because he captures Hamlet’s state of confusion most accurately and symbolically. The combined elements of speech and setting create a perfect portrayal Hamlet’s self struggle.


Here I am at world’s end, staring through the endless frame
The air is bitter,
on the way to my final streetscape
I drink some spirits which soothes
and heals to have courage and to relax
In. The streets look for puppets, or me, void
without purpose but to obey, it's
demoralizing with such purpose, demoralizing on me, I endure
through it, them, as
The cocktail is being sipped on lounge now
two years almost ago, and the man weeping
Is looking over old photographs, & telling.
Who would have thought that I'd be here, nothing
to do, nothing to live for, everything
Gone; will, joy, anger, fear, excitement, laughter,
Up in the sky I cannot reach, drifting away, now
more than ever before?
Not that successful man, radiant in his new coat
eyes penetrating every flaw
& obstacle in the coming future. Not that exceptional student, eighteen, who was
going to have to go, careening into college so,
To learn, & to achieve more wisdom than anyone could imagine
so to go. Not that vassal who from very first meeting
I would never & never will follow orders, not even after I fade & so demanded
To lament & who will never leave me, not for leisure, nor pleasure
nor even for utmost happiness which is
Only our human lot & means nothing. No, not now.
There's a song, "Bring me to Life", but no, I won't do that
I am alone. When will I die? I will never die, I will live
To bear, & I will never go away, & you will never escape from me
who am always & only a realist, despite this thought, Spirit
Who lives only to suffer.
I'm only human, & I am lost, & I didn't ask for it to be this way
I came into your life to leave you my experience.
Only that
And nothing more.
Forlorn & weary, living this fate, nevertheless
I remain here
The world's weight rests on my shoulders.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008



Landscape with the Fall of Icarus, by Pieter Brueghel depicts the moment when the wax on Icarus’ wings melt, causing Icarus to plunge to his death as he falls into the ocean. Brueghel portrays the scene with minimal amounts of bright, warm colors completely enclosed by darker colors, creating a gloomy atmosphere. All the colors flow creating the idea that everything in the painting is part of the scenery.

The most eye-catching part of this painting is the sun. At first glance of the entire painting the brightness of the sun draws the viewer to stare directly into the sun. In reality, the sun is cosmic and its light extends far across the lands. In this picture, the sun is small, which shows that it is a great distance away from where the artist is standing. The sun’s light is limited and does not extend very far because it entirely surrounded by the darker colors of the ocean, mountains, and skies. Just below the sun, the island of Crete can be seen. Like the sun, the island of Crete is bounded by the ocean. The ocean excludes the sun and island from reaching civilization, where life seems to be apparent. The ocean is vast and endless. It covers about one third of the painting, however, it stretches far beyond and out of the painting, and creating a mystery of its exact magnitude. It also allows the viewer to imagine its size to any extent they wish. The ocean is also powerful. It is main source of isolation in this painting. It separates the sun and island of Crete from the rest of civilization. The only objects which seem to be able stay afloat on the ocean appear to be another island which is towards the left area of the ocean and many small boats. Although small these fragile boats appear to be the only means of transcending over the isolating obstacle of the ocean. The most interesting concept of the ocean in this painting is its color. The ocean is a cool blue color in the area where it hides the sun. This promotes the idea that the atmosphere may be a bit on the cold side. It has a warmer yellow tone in the center of the painting where it does not touch any other object. The viewer might see a relaxing calmness in this particular area, thus he will spend more time concentrating on this particular portion of the painting. The warmness of that segment of the ocean plays a sinister role in diverting the viewer’s attention from the hideous truth within this painting. As the ocean draws closer to the viewer’s perspective the color becomes dim and shadowy. The faint colors aid in creating a dull and listless mood within the painting. It also plays an important role in masking struggle within the picture. Once the viewer thoroughly explores the painting, he will notice that there is a pair of legs sticking out the ocean. The viewer would assume that these legs belong to Icarus because the entire picture depicts the moment Icarus falls into the ocean. Since there is no other form of human life in the ocean, it is most logical to assume that the pair of legs can only belong to Icarus. The color tones of his legs blend evenly with the murky colors of the ocean, causing Icarus’ existence to be hidden by the ocean. Right below the struggling Icarus is a fisherman. He sits on the minute land available to him. It is interesting to note that he is completely unaware of Icarus’ existence because he portrays no element surprise by the traumatic experience right above his head. To the left of Icarus is a herder tending to his many livestock. Interestingly enough is that the herders and his animals also do not notice Icarus’ as he struggles in the ocean. The herder’s blue shirt blends in with the ocean blue background he touches. His pants are dark brown. They match the light brown color of the earth he stands upon, but they do not blend because the color of the pants is distinct. To the left of the herder is the farmer. He is the most exemplified life form within this painting. He is physically larger than the sun. Also, his colors stand out more than the sun. The farmer is wearing a weak fainted colored tunic which matches the color of the grass he is currently plowing. The most distinct aspect of his clothes is his burning red shirt which he wears under his dull colored tunic. The farmer is plowing the land available by directing the horse which carries the plow across the untilled land. The horse is a dark brown color which matches the color of the tilled soil in its background, but is distinct so the viewer can differentiate between the horse and soil. Above and below the horse, plants and trees can be seen. Further above the horse, civilization can be seen. It is distant and seems hazy from the viewer’s standpoint. Lastly, above civilization is a dark and gloomy sky which watches over the melancholy world below it.

The title, Landscape with the Fall of Icarus, is directly related to the entire painting. The painting depicts the exact moment when Icarus falls to his demise. The landscape is vast, and Icarus is small. It shows that Icarus’ death is miniscule and completely insignificant to the painting entirely. If he was not present, the painting would not have been affected by any significance.
The title and the blending aspect of colors suggest that every aspect of this painting connects to nature because all forms of civilization blend in with nature. The painting consists solely of a landscape. It seems that the living organisms present in this painting become one with nature. The farmer’s tunic blends in with the color of the untilled soil below him. The farmer’s horse matches the color of tilled soil. The herder’s clothes flow with the background of the ocean and shore. The town merges with the grey sky above it. Every aspect of human life matches with its background of nature.

Brueghel creates a masterpiece through his brilliant use colors and blending techniques. He is able to use color to blend the living forms of life with the enervated colors of nature. Brueghel does an outstanding job at masking the most important aspect of his painting: Icarus. He is remarkable because he makes Icarus, a vital piece of this work of art, seem insignificant. Overall Brueghel accomplishes to depict the dismal scene of Icarus’ demise in a unique manner. He does not concentrate on the doom of Icarus by using exuberant colors to attract the viewer’s attention, but by masterfully integrating Icarus into the depressing atmosphere of the entire landscape.

Every Visible Thing Filler Chapter


Chapter 19.5: Flowers

I wake up to the sound of birds chirping. They’re loud and obnoxious, but it’s good to hear something real and alive again. This sound is followed by a noise, a squeak and a rustle, like a mouse trying to escape after being spotted. Slowly and wearily, I rise and rest my back against the pale wall. I look around, searching for anything different within the room. But there is nothing. Light peers through the window, no different from yesterday. Yet today it feels lighter, warmer as if the cold burden has been lifted up and off my shoulders.

Tired, I lie back down on the bed, flipping the pillow over so I can rest on the cooler side. The room is quiet. Occasionally, the doctors and nurses walk by my room, giving birth to echoes in the once soundless space I occupied. Unlike the previous night, I rest in the bed well aware of the conscious world around me. Everything is clear, and I have control of my body again. The atmosphere is soothing and I fall fast asleep for the next few hours.

The sounds of footsteps draw closer and closer. Owen barges in through the slightly opened door.

“Hi, Lena,” he says as he enters the room.
“Hi, Owen,” I respond.
Owen walks towards me. He places his hand onto my forehead, exactly as I would do when he was ill.
“I don’t have a fever, you know,” I say.
“Just checking to make sure,” he responds.
“Where’s Mom and Dad?” I ask.
“Not here,” he replies.
“Then how did you come here,” I question.

Before he answers, I notice the sound of footsteps drawing closer and closer to my room. There is a familiar lightness to these steps, but I cannot recall who they belong to.

“I hope you’re doing well,” Jonah says.
“What are you doing here?” I snicker out of habit.
“I’ll just leave you two alone,” Owen says and quickly leaves.
“I brought you flowers,” Jonah answers.
Embarrassed, I can’t help but blush a little. The hatred I once felt for him is no longer there. Probably because I still remember the kiss he gave me in that dream I saw Hugh in.
“You’ve got the wrong girl, I don’t like flow…”

Before I could even finish my sentence, I noticed he was pressing his lips gently against mine. This feeling was familiar. It was exactly as I had dreamt it that day; soft, gentle, warm, and secure, as though he was not merely just kissing me, but protecting me at the same time.

“How are you getting away with this?” I ask as if this was that exact dream.
“You must secretly want me to.” He smiles.

Intentional or not, he answered the same way he did in my dream. I guess he really does understand, after all.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Tom Phillips A Humument Explication


Page 170 of Tom Phillips’ A Humument features “a feeling of [the] future” behind the background of a clear blue sky. The sky is vast and limitless, indicating that the destination of the future, like the sky, is also limitless. The “future” lies on clear neutral sky in between two different clouds: a cloud of pristine white and a cloud of dim gray. Phillip’s strategic placement of colors creates a masterpiece reflecting the two contrasting futures which can result in the world: a bright and hopeful future under the clarity of heavenly white clouds or a dim and gloomy future under clouds of pale gray.

This piece contains no title. The absence of a title allows the viewer to interpret the piece to their own life and understanding. Freedom from ownership marks a beautiful quality of the sky. Unlike land, the sky cannot be divided, named, nor conquered. It remains connected as one sky. The ethereal state of the sky prevents mankind from claiming ownership of the sky. The sky is free to float above the land because it is forever beyond the grasp of humans regardless of how high they reach. People can only gaze at the wonders of the sky. They can never control the sky and alter it to their will.

Like sky, the “future” is also incapable of being controlled by humans. It can only be influenced in one of two directions: a positive or negative future. The “future” lies on a sky blue background in between influences of a light and dark cloud. This cool blue color depicts a calm and tranquil setting, allowing each cloud to influence the “future”.

The grey cloud resides to the left of the clear blue sky. These murky clouds represent negative influence. The pale grayness represents grief and sorrow. It depicts a feeling of detachment and isolation. These faint gray clouds cover about half of the piece suggesting that there is more negative influence compared to positive influence. At the moment of this piece, there is higher concentration of gloom. Tones of yellow-green exist towards the bottom half of the gray clouds. The yellow-green tone produces feelings of sickness. This suggests that it is sickening how dominating the negative gray clouds are upon the clear blue sky. Although the gray clouds are ruling the sky, there is still hope for positive influence to flourish.

On the opposite end of the shady gray clouds dwell the serene white clouds. These white clouds signify positive influence. The pallid clouds denote feelings of safety and purity. They do not cover an area of the piece as large as the gray clouds. The positive influence is not dominating over negative influence. It seems that the white clouds are struggling against the force of the darker gray clouds. At the top left of the piece, the viewer should notice “a kind attack of spring” between the light and dark clouds. In that area of blue sky, the viewer should see shades of white moving towards each cloud. This blending of colors indicates a struggle between opposite forces wishing to conquer the blue sky.

At the moment of this piece, the speaker is experiencing a “real downpour” in his life. The speaker is “broken” because he is split in between two opposing forces: positive and negative influence. The situation is similar to a “photograph” because remains consistent and does not change. Like the “photograph”, the speaker is deadlocked in a situation which does not change. He constantly struggles against positive and negative influences while being encaged in between these two forces. At the bottom of the piece, the speaker seeks assistance from the reader. “If [the speaker] had [the reader’s] voice”, he can gain a second opinion to help him break free from his encasement as a “photograph”.

The “future” will forever remain in constant combat between influence of the dark and light clouds. Without choosing one side over another, one will remain deadlocked like a “photograph” without progression. One will not grow and change without surmounting the dilemma of these two forces. It is important for one to proceed in life, even if it means seeking assistance. Progress can only be achieved if one takes action; not by standing still.

Lesson Before Dying Posts

December 3, 2007

The title A Lesson Before Dying seems to has a deeper meaning than I thought. At first I thought the story to be about a protagonist who undergoes a revelation or discovers divine insight before his death. For this to occur, the story should be told in a first person narrative from the dying protagonist’s point of view. This book surprised me because the story is told through the eyes of Grant rather than Jefferson, who is convicted guilty of the crime. It seems that there is a much deeper meaning to this title than there appears. Perhaps this foreshadows that the people involved in sending Jefferson to be electrocuted will be the ones who learn this “lesson”.

Just from reading the first sentence, I noticed that Grant seems to contradict himself a lot. He claims that “I [he] WAS NOT THERE, yet I [he] was there” (3). Grant further continues to contradict his own words. The author portrays Grant as an unreliable source of information. As a reader, I had trouble believing in his statements.

Grant, compared to Tanta Lou and Miss Emma, seems to show the least concern for Jefferson. It made me wonder why the story would be seen through his eyes. Any thoughts?

A reoccurring image within the book is a “hog”. It is first mentioned when the defendant states that he would “soon put a hog in the electric chair” (8) than put Grant. Although he is the defendant, he seems to be degrading Grant as a person. Later, Miss Emma claims that she does not “want no hog to go set in that chair. I [she] want[s] a man to go set in that chair” (20). Instead of sinking low by saving Jefferson’s life by any means, Miss Emma seems to value pride over life. She would rather her son die as a man rather than a hog. I believe she is heroic because she decides it is better for Jefferson to live a short life as man as opposed to living a long life as a “hog”.

December 5, 2007

You brought up a good point about the capitalization of the first few words of each chapter. I did not realize that there may be any significance at first. I do not think that Gaines uses capitalization to introduce the problems of the world. Capitalization is used to place emphasis on the words. They seem to serve as a transition between events in the book. They also create a setting of where the chapter begins. Gaines’ use of capitalization seems to suggest that Grant is certain of his environment while he narrates the story. There is no doubt in Grant’s mind that his recollection of the past is flawless and truthful.

While reading this book, I came across a question I was never able to answer. What race is Grant? I don’t believe that Gaines ever specified Grant’s race. This is important because this book takes place in a time where segregation of races is allowed. Racism stems from the segregation of races. Therefore, racism may have played a vital role in the court decision of Jefferson as well as Grant’s uncaring attitude towards Jefferson.

Grant as a character acts immature for his age. I find that his occupation as a teacher ironic because Grant seems like he needs to learn rather than teach. He is “tired of feeling committed” (29) to his work. While the dilemma regarding Jefferson is most important at the time, he cares only to see Vivian. He asks Vivian to elope with him. Instead of dealing with the issues at hand, he wishes to retreat from them. Vivian, in contrast to Grant, is mature and organized. She tells Grant to “always come to me [Vivian]” (31) whenever he has a problem.

Religion is mentioned often in this book. At one point, Gaines describes that there “were color prints of Jesus: The Last Supper and Christ knocking on a door” (34). Interestingly enough, Grant’s aunt says “‘Food there if you want it. Or you can go back where you had supper last night’” (35). “Supper” seems to be symbolic. Since Grant is Christian I believe that this theory is strong. The Last Supper portrays Jesus, who predicts that he will soon suffer after his meal. It was also his last meal prior finishing his job for God. Also, Jesus gives his followers symbols to remember the body and blood he sacrificed on behalf of mankind. Perhaps Grant will follow Jesus’ footsteps. Grant may soon suffer for some reason. He may also influence others enough to leave a lasting impact on their lives so that Grant will be remembered for his sacrifice. Any other ideas regarding religion?

December 6, 2007

Since it has been established that it is highly probable to assume that Grant is black, I agree with Matt that he is bitter about racism in society of that time period, but there seems to be a deeper cause of the bitterness. Although Grant resents racism; I believe that Grant, like a child, will complain when things do not proceed as he wishes. When his students do not behave to his liking, Grant will simply punish them to get to remain obedient. At one point, the superintendent, Dr. Joseph comes for a school visit to test the quality of the school. He is pleased with the results, so Grant begins requesting school supplies. Grant becomes silent when his wishes are rejected. He then complains that the books his students use are “hand-me-downs from the white schools” (57). Grant only complies with Dr. Joseph because he holds higher authority. Grant obeys Dr. Joseph as though he is a child obeying his parent or elder.

Simon, Matt is right. Grant is Jefferson’s teacher. When Miss Emma visits Jefferson, she tells Jefferson that she’s brought “Professor Wiggins, your [his] teacher” (74).

Matt, I agree with you. As stated before, Grant seems to be too much of a child to be a teacher. Instead of teaching, he should be learning like his students.

Responding to Simon:
Although there is no life-threatening sacrifice, Grant sacrifices a part of his personal time for the sake of Jefferson, Miss Emma, and Tanta Lou. However, I do agree with you that Grant may not fully portray Jesus. Further reading made me believe that Jefferson may be a physical representation of Jesus. He refuses to eat the “supper” from Miss Emma. This might suggest that Jefferson does not wish to suffer just yet. Jefferson will eventually suffer because he is doomed to face the electric chair. Another way of viewing this is that Jefferson does not care to live anymore because it is meaningless. After all, Jefferson “knelt down on the floor and put his head inside the bag and started eating, without using his hands” (83) as though he was a hog. How do you view Jefferson?

December 9, 2007

Simon, you bring up an interesting point about when you stated that Grant is not a complete man yet. I agree with you that the passage foreshadows a change in respect towards Grant. Since Grant still acts childish, I believe that Grant will become a man by the end of the book. It is possible that Grant will become a man after learning the lesson. Being without a name reminds me of Raymond Bario’s poem, “Plum Plum Pickers”. In that poem, Manuel becomes a true man after he steps up against the oppressing force, Roberto. Like Manuel, Grant’s name is not known by the higher authority. Grant will become a man when he stops being immature and indecisive. However, this brings up an even more interesting question. What qualities define “man”? It would be unethical to believe that one must act rebellious and bold to be a “man”, but this seems to be the in both this book and “Plum Plum Pickers”.

Simon, I believe you made an error in suggesting that “nothing would come from killing an intelligent man”. I personally believe that nothing would come from killing a hog. When the defense attorney says that he would rather put a hog in the electric chair, he is degrading Jefferson. In a way, the defense suggests that Jefferson is not worth the trouble of being placed in the electric chair. The defense attorney’s statement is an interesting one. The statement’s purpose is to save Jefferson’s life, but ironically slaughters Jefferson as a person. This brings us back to the question: Is it better to die with pride or to live with humility?

When Vivian comes to visit Grant, he seems to have matured from being a child to being a young adult. Grant is obsessively infatuated with Vivian. We see that Grant is able to maintain a relationship with Vivian; however this relationship is similar to a relationship which a person who has just become an adult would hold. Grant and Vivian plan names for their future children as they make love in the field. Prior to this, Grant suggested that Vivian should elope with him. I do not understand how Grant can possibly act so childishly, but think of having children. If Grant cannot even deal with his own problems at hand, how can he possibly be able to manage children? Overall, Grant seems to have matured from the beginning as Simon has said.

December 15, 2007

Matt, you are gravely mistaken if you believe that Jefferson is seen as a hopeless stranger. The whole reason Grant continues visiting Jefferson is because the church ladies (Miss Emma, Tanta Lou) and Reverend Ambrose encourages Grant to visit Jefferson. They do not treat Jefferson with disrespect. Jefferson treats himself with disrespect when Miss Emma and Reverend Ambrose visit him in jail. After all, Miss Emma who brought food and “a shirt too, a pretty shit” (121) Jefferson asks Miss Emma to bring “corn for a hog” (122). He repeats this statement numerous times until Miss Emma finally hits him for the degrading act. Miss Emma and Reverend Ambrose do not show disrespect to Jefferson. They wish to make a believer out Jefferson. By doing so, they hope Jefferson will find something to hope for.

At the end of Chapter 14, Grant and Vivian are thinking of names for their future children. Grant is unsure of whether he wants his children to “grow up here” (109). Is there any specific reason why he feels this way? I believe that Grant is tired of his current life style. He wishes to run away from it all and start life anew with Vivian. This might explain why he pressures Vivian to leave with him so much.

In the beginning of Chapter 15, Vivian first mentions of her family life. She “married a dark-skinned boy while attending Xavier University” (111). After the wedding “her family had nothing to say to her husband and hardly anything to say to her” (112). When Vivian’s first child was born, the family also ignored the child as well as Vivian. After the separation between Vivian and her husband, there was still no restoration of connection between Vivian and her family. There seems to be a dividing line within the black community. Vivian, who is a mulatto, is completely neglected after she marries a darker skinned man.

December 15, 2007

I agree with Simon that Vivian’s current children hold no significance to Grant or the story. The children’s’ existences only seem to serve as a memento of Vivian’s past relationship with the dark skinned man. These children are the only things tying Vivian down from further pursuing her relationship with Grant. Vivian refuses to lose custody of her children. This shows that Vivian is a good mother and it may also show that Vivian is unwilling to let go of her past.

In Chapter 17, there is finally a change in the relationship between Grant and Jefferson. Grant notices that Jefferson “needed [Grant], and he wanted [Grant] here, if only to insult [Grant]” (130). I find this interesting because the first time they connect happens to be through anger and rage. During this point, Jefferson had insulted Vivian to provoke Grant. Instead of releasing his anger physically, Grant “rubbed [his] fist with [his] left hand, and gradually [Grant] began to relax” (130). Grant displays maturity at this point. He does not resort to physical violence. In a relaxed and calm manner, he explains that Vivian is the reason why he comes to visit Jefferson. I find this scene important because it is one of few times where Grant actually acts maturely. Vivian’s existence seems to have caused Grant to grow up. Further in this passage, Jefferson states “‘manners is for the live’” and “‘food for the living, too”’ (130). It is obvious that Jefferson still does not consider himself to be among the living. He already considers himself to be a dead man. Although his statements are negative, Jefferson has come a long way since the beginning of the book. Now he actually begins to express his feelings and issues in a subtle manner.

In Chapter, Jefferson asks an appealing question. He says “‘that’s when He was born, or that’s when He died” (138). Grant is referring to Jesus Christ at this moment. I find this passage appealing because Jefferson is willing to discuss religion with Grant, who does not care for religion. Grant answers Jefferson’s question and further develops the conversation saying that Easter is “‘when they nailed Him to the cross’” (138).
As I have mentioned in the past, Jefferson may be a physical representation of Jesus. Perhaps this will foreshadow Jefferson’s death to be on Easter as well. Once again Jefferson has made advancement in his relationship with Grant. He now speaks freely of religion.

December 15, 2007

I completely agree with Simon’s points. I also saw the connection between the twelve white men with the twelve apostles. Grant brings up an interesting idea in that same passage. He questions the definition of absolute justice because “twelve white men say a black man must die, and another white man sets the date and time without consulting one black person” (157). According to Grant, white men always claim that they seek justice, but it is simply ridiculous to assume that all white men have the right and power to determine the future of a black man. It is preposterous to believe that one race can assume the position of God for another race.

How do you think justice is viewed in this society? How can anyone let a group of stranger decide the one’s own fate? This system of justice does not seem fair at all!

In Chapter 21, Grant is venting off at Vivian because he feels over-burdened after drinking some alcohol. He feels that everyone is expecting too much out of him. Miss Emma wants him to make Jefferson a man and create a change in society. I find it funny how begins expressing his honest inner thoughts after drinking alcohol. Perhaps this suggests that people speak absolute truth when they are under the influence of alcohol. Grant states that “‘black men have failed to protect our women since the time of slavery’” (166). They all remain silent in the south or run away from their problems. Therefore, “‘each time a male child is born, they hope he will be the one to change this vicious cycle” (167). None of the males gather enough courage to cause change because it is “too heavy a burden” (167) since all the previous males before them all left more burdens. Once again, Vivian eases Grant’s worries by explaining that “‘it’s up to Jefferson’” (167) to become a man.

December 15, 2007

At last! In Chapter 22, there is a connection to The Last Supper. Jefferson wants a “‘whole gallona vanilla ice cream’” (170). Apparently this gallon of ice cream will be Jefferson’s “last supper” (170). Ice cream is a random, but interesting choice. Perhaps Jefferson chooses it because he does not get to enjoy its sweet flavor as often as he would like. Jefferson will make sure he gets the most out of his “last supper” before he suffers to become the savior of his black community.

This passage is also important because Jefferson becomes much more expressive of his feelings and inner thoughts. He now feels comfortable enough to share his desires with Grant. Grant is happy now that Jefferson “smiled now because he had something pleasant to look forward” (170-171).

Afterwards, Grant tells Jefferson that “‘Stella had her baby’” (171). This is fascinating because the name Stella stands for star. I believe that Stella refers to the Virgin Mary, who gave birth to Jesus. She also just had a child recently. This child might also show a connection to Jesus. When Jesus was born, a new star appeared. Three wise men came bearing gifts. Maybe the same will happen for Stella and her child.

In another passage, racism is seen as Grant decides to buy Jefferson a radio. The white woman tries to persuade Grant to buy the floor model. Grant insists on buying a new radio sealed in its box. The white woman, on the other hand wishes to get rid of the floor model insisting that she will place it in a box and lowering the price by one dollar. This is irritating because I cannot believe the woman would try selling a used product. It makes me wonder if should would do the same if Grant was a white man. Any ideas?

The woman only becomes more infuriating because she makes Grant wait fifteen minutes to come back with a new radio. Also, she “stood there about ten minutes” (176) talking to another white woman who came in to browse and talk. I think Gaines does well in creating a scenario featuring racism. The woman’s attitude definitely aggravated me when I read this. This passage is important because Grant stands up against racism. He does not fall to the demands of the white woman, who tried to sell him a used produce. Grant takes a stand for his rights. I believe that little acts like these will bring about great change for the black community because it shows Grant that it is acceptable to fight against injustice regardless of how simple the matter may be.

December 26, 2007

Grant has definitely matured throughout the novel. He seems capable of maintaining a relationship with Vivian because he is devoted only to her. However, I do not think whether the success of Grant’s relationship with Vivian is relevant at all. I believe the important aspect within their relationship is understanding Grant’s character and personality.

In Chapter 23, Reverend Ambrose confronts Grant. Reverend Ambrose believes that Jefferson “‘needs God in that cell, and not that sin box’” (181). Jefferson does not seem to be a religious type of man. Reverend Ambrose always claimed that he wanted to do the best for Jefferson. It is ironic that he would take Jefferson’s sole source of happiness away just to instill religion within his mind. Why would Reverend Ambrose take away the radio if he wishes for Jefferson to be happy? Reverend Ambrose seems overly religious if he only listens to church music. Music seems to have a deeper significance to this book. I believe that through music, one’s soul and mind can escape from the body and enter a state of relaxation.

There seems to be a clash between body and soul in this book. Reverend Ambrose, Miss Emma, and Tante Lou wish to save Jefferson’s soul, while neglecting the body. Grant is the complete opposite; he wishes to save Jefferson’s body. I can understand why both sides would favor one over the other. Reverend Ambrose, Miss Emma, and Tante Lou know that a court decision cannot be changed; therefore they hope to save Jefferson’s soul by instilling God and religion within him. Grant, on the other hand, wishes to help Jefferson “not think about death” (182). I am more inclined to side with Grant’s ideas because he is trying to give Jefferson the best before his death. Jefferson is not religious and it seems pointless to force religious ideas into his mind.

December 26, 2007

Grant finally establishes a close connection with Jefferson. For once Jefferson is not monotonous and shunning away from society. This is evident because “there was no hate in his face—but Lord, there was pain” (186) when he looked up at Grant. Grant becomes overjoyed and wants to “throw [his] arms around [Jefferson] and hug him” (186). This scene is important because Jefferson does not see himself as a hog anymore, but realizes that he is human and that people do care for him.

Jefferson is heavily influenced by Grant. Jefferson share common interests and ideas with Grant. These interests include music played from the “sin box” (radio) and their moral standings in Christian faith. Like Grant, Jefferson is also not heavily religious. During Reverend Ambrose’s prayer-sermon, “everyone responded with “‘Amen’” except for Jefferson” (189). Jefferson displays maturity by not conforming to society. In a way, Jefferson is displaying heroism by taking a stand for what he believes in.

Grant introduces the definition of a hero. He claims that a hero assists others and “does something that other men don’t and can’t do” (191). This idea of a hero does not seem ideal. Things which one man cannot do are most likely doable by other men. Therefore, it is impossible for any man to become a hero. Perhaps this means that only women can be heroes. How do you define a hero?

December 26, 2007

I define a hero as anyone who is able to stand up against fear to protect their beliefs and morals. Grant would not be a hero by my definition because he strays away from solving racism within the community. Instead he pushes the responsibility onto Jefferson, who happens to be near death. Grant is too selfish and preoccupied with his own life to change society. Jefferson on the other hand has the opportunity to take advantage of his current situation on death row to show society that blacks are also human.

I find it strange that Grant believes that Jefferson is hero material. Grant is educated in academics unlike Jefferson, who is not educated in academics. Citizens expect heroism from Grant, “but not from [Jefferson]” (191). What can Jefferson provide, which cannot be provided to others? I believe that Grant wants Jefferson will give his life to show his refusal to die as anything but a mere man on equal grounds as the white men. This will show the world that Jefferson is “more a man than [white men] can ever be” (192). The following passage was inspiring. Grant compares Jefferson with drift wood. Drift wood, although seemingly useless and abundant, can become powerful potential slingshots. It shows that even low classed people like Jefferson can have potential for greater good. Grant believes that Jefferson’s objective in life is “saving souls” (213)

In Chapter 27, there is a conflict between academic education and societal education. Grant represents the epitome of academic education because he went to college and Reverend Ambrose signifies the essence of societal education. By going to school, Grant has become an outcast within his own society. Reverend Ambrose does not view Grant as a man because he is not as religious as other members in society. While most black citizens believe in the white God for answers, Grant display atheist beliefs. I find it ironic that Reverend Ambrose would question Grant’s education. Grant “will never tell [Jefferson] another lie” (217). Reverend Ambrose, on the other hand encourages lying. He admits that he does lies “at wakes and funerals to relieve pain” (218). This passage has made me ponder about religion. If all religion is unreal, then people believe in it to relieve themselves of the pain of not being able to comprehend unexplainable concepts of life.

December 26, 2007

In Chapter 28, Jefferson acts unexpectedly. Jefferson, a person of the lower class, cannot give anything to society. However, at the end of the chapter, Jefferson asks Grant if he’d ‘“care for a ‘tato”’ (225). I believe this scene is symbolic and important. Not once in this book has Jefferson been able to offer anything to anybody. This shows that anyone can give back to society. Jefferson, who has been receiving since the beginning of the book, offers Grant a potato. This action displays Jefferson’s resolution. He has decided to become a man and give back to those who have helped him in the past.

I agree with Matt that Jefferson’s diary is a good indicator of the change Jefferson undergoes since the start of the novel. In the beginning, Jefferson did not speak his mind. He is mesmerized into believing that he is a hog. As the story progresses, Jefferson begins to open up to Grant. When Grant buys Jefferson the notebook and pencil, Jefferson does not write much on it at first. Now that a chapter is dedicated to Jefferson’s entries, it shows that Jefferson has faith in Grant. Jefferson writes his thoughts and mental processes freely. Doing this show that Jefferson accepts himself as a human, not a hog. He expresses his feelings through writing, not by eating. By writing his thoughts, Jefferson is able to leave a permanent indicator of his meaningful life for society. Jefferson is able to show that he did not live to be a mere human, but to be a hero.

Now that the end draws near, I believe it would a good idea to take into account of the change in society after this incident. What is the lesson before dying?

December 26, 2007

I believe the lesson before dying is to understand one existence. It means do as one wishes to live with the rest of one’s life. This would make sense because Grant chooses not to be a hero, where as Jefferson chooses to be a hero.

Despite all the work Grant and Jefferson undergo to raise awareness of racism, it is disappointing to know how much time and effort it take to change society. On the bright side, it is good to know that at least one white man, Pal, is touched and affected by the execution. He is the only one who comprehends the injustice at hand. It is good to know that there is a small bridge connecting white society with the black community because Paul will ‘“be there [at the execution]”’ (245) observing Jefferson and being with him in spirit.

It is interesting to note how so much everything has changed since the start of the book. Grant, who was formerly an atheist, turns to God on the day of Jefferson’s execution. Grant “felt like crying, but refused to cry” (249). Crying men is frowned upon by society. Perhaps this shows Grant’s change in maturity. I do not think this is mature at all because Grant seems too afraid to express his own feelings. Instead, he would rather “telephone Vivian” (249) for advice. It is debatable whether Grant has matured at all. Although he begins to show slight care and concern for society, he still maintains immaturity because he turns to Vivian for answers instead of discovering his own.

At the end of the novel Paul commends Grant for being “‘one great teacher’” (254). Grant claims that “‘he didn’t do it’” (254) and gives the credit to God. This shows that Grant does not wish to take credit for any involvement in the Jefferson’s journey to manhood before his execution. Grant is possibly ashamed of his actions. It is also possible that Grant has become more accepting of religion was a way of lying to relieve pain just like Reverend Ambrose.

December 26, 2007

In James Joyce’s “A Little Cloud”, Little Chandler suggests that it is “useless to struggle against fortune” (71). I believe this is not true. Without struggle, there is no will to call for change. Connecting this to Gaine’s A Lesson Before Dying, it is evident that a change for the better is not possible without struggle. Jefferson would have remained as a hog without Grant’s influence. Jefferson is able to become a man because he chooses to change in the end. Grant also struggles against his beliefs in religion. Through his struggles, he learns to grow concern for Jefferson as well as influence him to become a man before his death.

Later in the chapter, Little Chandler suggests that “if you wanted to succeed you had to go away” (73). I find this idea ironic, but true. Jefferson had to disappear before he could raise awareness of the injustice of racism within society. His disappearance showed the community that black people are people, not hogs. This is also too similar to Jesus Christ, who had to die for the sake of humanity. What good is success if the leader who initiates the route to success disappears? The leader will never be able to enjoy success.

Ignatius Gallaher and Grant have contrasting beliefs when it comes to relationships. Ignatius Gallaher does not enjoy the feeling of being tied down with children. He states that he must have his “first fling and see a bit of life and the world” (81) before he settles for his own lot of children. Grant although immature, is faithful to Vivian. He plans to marry and take full responsibility of Vivian and her children. Perhaps Grant is more mature than Ignatius.

Little Chandler is influenced by Ignatius Gallaher. After their meeting together, Little Chandler begins to long for the freedom which Ignatius still has. “Tears of remorse started to his eyes” (85) because he feels confined by his child and wife. Like Little Chandler, Jefferson is also heavily influenced by Grant. The relationship between Jefferson and Grant differ from Little Chandler and Ignatius because Grant influences Jefferson positively. The positive influence brought about a good ending because awareness of racism was raised. In Little Chandler’s scenario, Ignatius’ influence caused Little Chandler to be scolded by his wife.

In James Joyce’s “Ivy Day in the Committee Room” features the death of Parnell and end of his career. This story signifies that the past shapes the present. In a Lesson Before Dying there is a similar situation because Jefferson’s death will shape the present. If Jefferson was left to die as a hog, there would be no change in society. However, Jefferson became aware of his human identity with the help of Grant’s influence. By the end of the novel, Jefferson’s execution is able to raise awareness of the injustice of racism to society and even to a white man, Paul. Through this experience, a call for change has been initiated to make the community a better place.

Red Shift Explication



Reminiscence is Immortality

Throughout the history of mankind, humans aspire to live forever. Even today, scientists constantly research new methods to extend the human lifespan. In the poem “Red Shift”, Ted Berrigan suggests that immortality is achievable not physically, but spiritually. Through reminiscence alone, immortality is born. The speaker is relentlessly recollecting memories of the past. In this recollection, the speaker gives life to the memories of his deceased past.

Berrigan begins the poem precisely at “8:08 p.m.” (1) of a winter night in February to give the reader a sense of time. Berrigan continues describing the setting of this particular winter night in order to create the perfect mood for the speaker to reminisce. “The air is biting” (2), and the speaker is drinking and smoking. His actions suggest that he is alone because people often drink and smoke to avoid problems such as feelings of loneliness. This setting is ideal because winter has an association to death. This winter night also generates a melancholy atmosphere. The speaker brings life to this lifeless world when he remembers sipping Calvados on Long Island almost twenty years ago. The speaker’s statement, “who would have thought that I’d be here” (13) proposes the idea that the speaker is in deep thought. He is reliving those memories, thus giving life to the deceased memories.

Berrigan’s word choice assists in granting energy and life to the empty memories. The speaker recalls memories concerning love, children, money, marriage ethics, and a politics of grace. These memories are alive, “swirling” (17) and “burning” (17) within his mind. The speaker can clearly remember the boy’s “eyes penetrating the winter twilight at 6th and Bowery in 1961” (20). This image is so clear that one would believe that the speaker is witnessing that event once again. Later, the speaker boldly claims that he “will never die” (31). He will live on as a “Spirit, who lives only to nag” (33). This statement suggests that the speaker will continue to live on even after his death. The speaker will not live physically, but will live spiritually in the memories of those who recognize him.

How can the speaker possibly achieve immortality? The speaker’s determination to become immortal is genuine. With utmost confidence, the speaker states that he is “all pronouns” (35). Pronouns are ambiguous and are frequently used in everyday language. This gives the impression that speaker will live on forever because it is nearly impossible to avoid using pronouns in everyday language. The speaker will “never go away” (32) because he gains life at any instance where he is remembered.

One achieves immortality at any instance where one is remembered. When a person is remembered, the person gains life and is alive once again. When the speaker reminisces about the past, his vivid details of the memory resurrect the event from the dead past. Like the speaker in this poem, people are able to escape death and gain immortality spiritually within the memories of those who reminisce about them.