My Favorite Novel From English 321

A Tie!

I would have to say that I am conflicted between my two favorite novels from African American Lit class. I am a huge fan of Going to Meet the Man, but I can’t say that I like Octavia Butler’s Kindred more or less than Baldwin’s writing.

Why I like Going to Meet the Man:

I loved reading Going to Meet the Man this semester, mostly because of Baldwin’s incredible writing. The way he writes just captures his audience and sucks them into the story. The pictures he paints of the impact of slavery on African Americans is beautiful and horrible, and really undescribable in words. You have to read it for yourself to truly see and feel the beauty of Baldwin’s words.

I also enjoyed the short story genre because it was definitely a nice change of pace from Nella Larsen’s Quicksand. I honestly could not take any more of Helga Crane’s crappy life. I seriously wanted to light that book on fire, but since the athletic department technically owns it and not me, I had to settle for hurling it into the messy abyss of my track locker, where it will never be seen again until I have to return my books.

My favorite short story out of the series of stories was “Sonny’s Blues.” I can’t really explain why, but there was something about it that really moved me. It isn’t my favorite because it is fun and uplifting, but because it is tragic and real. I felt like Baldwin’s words grabbed ahold of my soul. Maybe it’s because I have two brothers, and I am very close with my family. I can’t imagine having to deal with the pain of having a family member become addicted to drugs and be in so much agony all the time. Family is such an important part of my life that it truly pained me to see Sonny’s brother struggle with his family that was falling apart. “Sonny’s Blues” is real, and I think that’s why it moved me so much.

Why I Enjoyed Kindred:

What I enjoyed the most about Kindred was that it was a huge change of pace from Gabriel’s Story. Don’t get me wrong, I loved Gabriel’s Story, but it was interesting to see the change in perspective that the story provided for me. Butler chose to write the novel in media res, which I always think is a very interesting way to start off a work. I like being thrown in the middle of a story and having to figure out what is happening to the characters. I thought the unraveling of the story and of each of the characters was definitely interesting and kept me turning the pages. It was definitely the fastest read of all the novels for me, because I kept wanting to know what was going to happen next. I love books that pull me in like that and keep me reading. Novels that feel like a chore to read are not worth it to me. I loved Kindred for that very reason: that reading was a pleasure instead of a horrible chore. I also really liked the message that Butler was trying to send to her audience: those who think they know slavery truly don’t have any idea until they have lived it themselves. Dana tried to ignore her past until she was forced to confront it and experience the antebellum South firsthand. She ignored her history and thus was forced to confront it and LIVE it, and then she truly understood the horrors of slavery. Butler is a great writer and her words were simple yet compelled me to keep reading to find out what was going to happen to Dana next!

Add comment April 8, 2008 cvandebrake

African American Lit in the 21st Century

I think that African American Literature is extremely significant today in the 21st century for many reasons.  I think slavery is a very long, complicated, and violent history that people are trying to understand still, even today. I think African American Literature is important, because people think they know slavery, when really claiming that in itself is as restricting and limiting in contemporary society as the institution of slavery! I think African American Lit is an attempt to show people that even today, we still don’t understand all that slavery is, and we should never be so arrogant as to think that we can possibly understand EVERYTHING unless we have directly experienced it ourselves firsthand.

The Known World really helps us understand the significance of slavery today. It tells us of the safety and danger that comes out of the known world.  It is also interesting within the book and important to note that the idea of what is KNOWN is defined by what is UNKNOWN. It is dangerous to believe that the world we know is all there is to know. Period. That is just not true, and it is arrogant to even think that way. It limits what we know and what we even attempt to understand. What is known constricts and controlls us because we will never know what is out there. We want to stay safe and comfortable in the known world. We enslave ourselves in thinking that we know everything there possibly is to know about the institution of slavery because we want to stay safe. It is scary to think that African Americans would own other African Americans, because it is not something that is widely known or heard of. I think the ultimate significance of African American literature in the 21st century, as seen in the known world, is that nothing is ever just cut and dry. 

No one can ever fully expect to completely, 100% understand the institution of slavery, unless they have lived it and experienced it themselves. We think we know everything just from the stories we’ve heard and what the history books say, but African American Literature seeks to explain that we really don’t know everything there is to know about slavery.

That, in essence, is the significance of African American Literature in the 21st century, in my own personal opinion. 🙂

Add comment April 8, 2008 cvandebrake

The Women of The Known World

After lecture yesterday, I realized that I had no idea about the power of the women in Jones’ novel, The Known World. Because Jones had never really discussed their thoughts, motivations, and emotions on a deeper level like he does with the men, I just assumed that they were all minor, unimportant characters. Boy, was I wrong!

I was just thinking about the most powerful women in the novel as I wrote my journal entry for Jones (I finished the book early, so I wrote out my journal already) , and I thought I would put some of my thoughts down on my blog.  The four most powerful women, in my opinon, are Caldonia, Philomena, Fern, and Alice.

Mostly, I feel that Caldonia, Philomena, and Fern all gained their power from their connections to powerful men, Caldonia especially. Here are their connections:

Caldonia Townsend: Henry Townsend, William Robbins, Louis Robbins, Moses the Overseer.

Fern Elston: Ramsay Elston, William Robbins

Philomena Cartwright: William Robbins, Henry Townsend

Alice: ……… no connections!

With the exception of Alice, all of the women have one main connection in common: William Robbins. Robbins is the wealthiest, most powerful man in Manchester County, and when people have a problem, they go to him as opposed to sheriff John Skiffington. I found that to be very interesting. The three women all gain their power positions from their connection to William Robbins. Nobody wants to mess with Robbins, so in turn they don’t mess with his women, giving them power over the men in the novel.

When reading about Caldonia, I first thought she was a really weak, pathetic character. I felt like she was thrown in this position of power and was letting everything fall apart. However, when Moses tried to move in and take some of her power by assuming the role of Mr. Townsend, I gained more respect for Caldonia because she quickly put an end to Moses’ run for power and remained in control of her plantation.

Philomena is one of the more powerful women in this novel as well, because she has power over William Robbins. She is the only person in the novel that can do whatever she wants. Robbins is tormented by his confusion over choosing his plantation and position of power or being with the woman he loves. This is where Philomena gains all her power, with her control over Robbins.

Fern is powerful because she also  has favor in Robbin’s eyes, because she educated his children and Henry. She is an educator, which gives her the power of knowledge to bestow only on the people in her favor or the people she chooses. This is a valuable gift to have. Knowledge is power. She also has more power because she is extremely light skinned, and even the pamphlet guy from Canada thought she was a white woman. In Manchester County during this time, this gave you more power in the novel.

Alice is a very interesting character, and I feel that she is the most powerful character in the entire book. I feel this way because she has no connections whatsoever, and thus the most freedom because nothing is there to hold her back or cause her to hesistate. She is also extremely clever by faking her insanity, which gave her freedom even before she escaped, because no one would worry about her wandering off the plantation. This gave her a chance to explore the world outside the plantation, and gave her a better opportunity to chart out the area and plan her escape.

From all the reasons I stated above, women rule The Known World! The reader just has to look a lot closer to see it!

Add comment April 2, 2008 cvandebrake

The Significance of Slavery

I feel that slavery is the most significant event in African American Literature. Even if it is not specifically mentioned, it is somehow always there, like a spectre or a haunting of some sort. It is a memory, a ghost that is always lurking in the shadows of each narrative or novel we come across. It is significant because it shows the triumph and resilience of a people, and the suffering they had to go through to achieve their rights and freedom they deserved all along.

 I feel that if slavery never existed, African American Literature would be completely different today. I’m not really sure exactly what it would be, but I know it would not be the same. Slavery is always a  part of African American Literature, because it is part of their personal history, the history of their race. It is a history that all African Americans share. It’s a part of them, whether they themselves were involved directly or not.

Slavery is something that can only be expressed and understood by those who have experienced it directly. African American literature seeks to express the experience of slavery in a way that helps others to understand the horror, the pain, and the suffering that comes with being kept in bondage for many generations. I feel that only African American writers can express this suffering and fully understand it. 

Although slavery was a very horrible and negative time in the lives of African American slaves, it also is present within literature to show to positive strengths of the race. Slavery is significant because it shows the resilience of the African American people. The strength of their ancestors, who endured backbreaking work, abuse, torture, and starvation on plantations where they were kept in bondage reveal a lionhearted courage that never backed down. The courage it takes to be able to make family out of people you’ve been thrown together with on the plantation, when your own family has been sold and taken from you. The strength it must have taken to get up every morning knowing that your family is gone and you will probably never get to see them again, and to keep on living and breathing while knowing that and enduring that emotional pain.  I honestly can’t imagine such agony.

All of these qualities about slavery and the African American people have shaped the literature we read today. Slavery was a history, an experience, a memory, and a haunting for these people, but it shaped the way we read their words today. No one can fully understand the horror of the slavery experience except those who have lived it themselves. We can only attempt to experience it through their own personal words, but we have only understood the tip of the iceberg in relation to their suffering. We can only skim the surface of trying to understand how much pain and suffering has been inflicted on this race of people, and taken away so much that they will never be able to get back.

That, is what I feel is the significance of slavery in African American Literature.

Add comment April 2, 2008 cvandebrake

The Known World

Slave Book Narrative?

I noticed right off the bat that this book was not going to invite me in to be a part of everything. Immediately it is obvious that the reader is supposed to be pushed back from connecting with the characters firsthand. The narration is in 3rd person omniscient, which gave me the feeling that I was opening a history book and turning the pages of a slave book that Robbins wrote himself. It had all the slaves’ names in it, their children, and their stories. Every slave within the novel has a different experience that is equally important in portraying the big picture Jones is trying to paint, the impact of slavery. Each little excerpt about a character, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant, tells one story that aids modern day people in understanding the entirety of the institution of slavery. One example is the moment where Rita is being shipped in the box to freedom with Augustus’ walking sticks. This part seems really small, and you never hear about Rita again, really, after that. However, it is an example of something that happened during the time of slavery, which makes it important to read about and understand. It’s an experience that really happened to slaves, and that is why it is important in gaining a full understanding of the slave experience. However, as much as Jones does a great job in portraying the different things that happened to slaves on the plantation, I feel like people today can never fully understand the experience of being a slave unless they have actually lived it. This is what I think Octavia Butler was trying to get across to the reader in Kindred.  Jones does a great job, but I really feel that this experience  has to be lived in order to be fully understood.

Crazy Ending

I really didn’t like the way the novel ended, especially with all the shooting and deaths. It seemed so random that Counsel and Skiffington would go to Mildred’s house and shoot her for not cooperating. It seemed like it was an accident, but Skiffington’s tooth was making him crazy. However, I still think it is so out of character for Skiffington to do that, especially to a woman as kind as Mildred Townsend. Then to turn around and have Counsel kill John is just ridiculous! I was sitting there reading and thinking “What?!”  We always knew Counsel was a creep, from very early on, but I never expected him to kill his own cousin. Augustus’ story was the biggest disappointment for me as a reader. I was so frustrated when Travis ate his free papers and sold him to Darcy and Stennis. I was almost expecting him to die when that happened, though. It just made me think “How can they do that to this man?” However, I feel like this situation probably happened a lot, as sad as that is. It was almost like the only way Augustus could finally be free was when he was dead, which is sad but true in the world he lived in.

Add comment March 31, 2008 cvandebrake

Olaudah Equiano

I accidentally put my African American AFTER 1970’s author first, so now I am going to do an overview of an African American author BEFORE 1970 for this blog post.  I chose Olaudah Equiano for my profile.

Olaudah Equiano (1745-1797)Major Works
The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African, Written by Himself, 1789

The life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African. Written by himself. 1969

The Classic slave narratives 1987

“Olaudah Equiano was born in the Essaka region, northeast of the Niger River, in the interior of Nigeria. In 1756, he and his sister were kidnapped by local raiders. Equiano was just eleven. He was carried west and south across a large river by tribal Africans who spoke a different language. Equiano was brought to the coast and sold to British slavers sailing to the American continent. The conditions aboard the slave ships that brought the slaves to the New World were inhumane.

On July 11, 1766 Equiano purchased his papers of manumission, and as a free man he continued his travels in the West Indies and America. He returned to America sailing under William Phillips, captain of a merchant ship whose cargo included slaves.

The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African, by Olaudah Equiano, is the “most remarkable of the 18th century”(123) books by black writers. “At the time it was published in 1789, few books had been produced in America which afford such a vivid, concrete, and picaresque narrative.”(123) What is significant about the autobiographical form of Equiano’s slave narrative is that autobiography as a genre, was young during the 18th century and had not achieved stature as a literary form. The popularity of Equiano’s narrative was due to its spiritual elements and reader interest in the private lives of public figures The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano is considered by some to be the most successful prose work written by an African in the Western World until the start of the American Civil War.”

 Works Cited:
Reuben, Paul P. “Chapter 2: Olaudah Equiano.” PAL: Perspectives in American Literature- A Research and Reference Guide. URL: http://web.csustan.edu/english/reuben/pal/chap2/equiano.html

1 comment March 25, 2008 cvandebrake

First thoughts on The Known World

 First Impressions…
When I first started reading The Known World, I thought it was kind of difficult to read. I don’t really know why…It might be because there are a lot of characters thrown at the reader in the beginning, and I had a really hard time keeping track of which character was which. I had to go back several times and reread passages, thinking, “Who’s THAT?”

Meet So-and-So…and here’s how they die!
I also thought it was strange how the author, Jones, would talk about a character and then tell you how they died later. I thought it was really bizarre that he would do that. Does he do that because he’s not going to talk about them later? Or is he doing that to show the reader all the misfortunes that slaves face, or all the different ways that slaves face death?  I thought it was a very interesting way to introduce a character by telling us how they eventually die.

I had no idea!
I also had no idea that African Americans could be slave owners. I will assume that this was very rare, but I was shocked to discover that Henry was a black man who owned slaves. That just seems very strange to me. I wonder how often this occurred, and if men like Henry faced any backlash or extra problems from other slave owners.

Where is this going? 
I’m also kind of wondering what direction this novel is heading. It keeps jumping from past to present and so on. I’m also sort of wondering what is going to happen, and which characters are going to be most important. I feel like Moses is an important character that they are going to go back to often, because he seems to appear a lot. He is also the first character we are introduced to. Elias has also been mentioned a lot lately. I wonder what the significance of his character is?

I guess I’ll just have to read on and find out!

Add comment March 11, 2008 cvandebrake

Wrapping up Kindred

Dana’s Arm

I thought it was very interesting that Dana lost her left arm at the end of the novel before her last trip home. In the reader’s guide at the back, Butler said she did it because it serves as a parallel to antebellum slaves, who are never whole again after being enslaved. Slavery takes something from a person, never allowing them to be quite whole again. It changes you, and makes you something different than you were before. As Rufus grew up, he began to adopt the culture and racism of his father, and the antebellum South attitudes and beliefs took hold of him, making him eventually turn into Tom Weylin. Dana was also changed by the South, turning completely toward the slave attitude and eventually so desperate to escape that she ended up stabbing Rufus in the end. She knew that this was the only way she would ever truly be able to return home and rebuild her life again.

I think Dana was stuck in her wall where Rufus grabbed her to symbolize how the South will always be a part of her. She can’t escape the  history of the South and slavery that will always be a part of her, even though she is from the present day 1976. It also symbolizes how part of her will never leave Rufus. He took part of her with him even when he died. She never completely abandoned him like he feared. When he realized she was going to leave him, he grabbed onto her arm to ensure that part of her would always be with him forever. Every time she sees the stump that used to be her left arm, she will think back to her history in the South and always remember Rufus, which is exactly what he wanted.

I wondered why Rufus didn’t follow Dana to 1976 when he grabbed onto her while she was being taken back home to the present. Kevin grabbed Dana and was taken back home, but not Rufus at the end. I think its because Rufus didn’t belong in the present time like Kevin did, so he wasn’t transported back with Dana. Or maybe it was because Rufus was already dead or dying, and the time travel doesn’t bring the dead to the present.

Though Butler didn’t explain any of the things that happened to Dana in the end, which is kind of frustrating to the reader, I still thoroughly enjoyed this novel and I would recomend it to pretty much anyone! It was a quick, easy read that just keeps you turning the pages to see what’s going to happen next. Anything is possible in Butler’s Kindred!

Add comment March 2, 2008 cvandebrake

Alice Walker

Information taken from About.com’s section on Women’s History by Jone Johnson Lewis: http://womenshistory.about.com/od/alicewalker/a/alice_walker.htm

“No person is your friend (or kin) who demands your silence, or denies your right to grow and be perceived as fully blossomed as you were intended.”  -Alice Walker

Alice walker is a Pulitzer Prize winning author most famously known for her work The Color Purple in 1982 that was later made into a movie by Steven Spielberg.  She is currently active in feminist/”womanist” (she coined that phrase herself) causes as well as environmental ones. She is also known for recovering the nearly lost works of Zora Neal Hurston and compiling them, as well as her work for fighting against female circumcision.

Her works depict the pain and struggles within African American women’s lives.  Themes center around rape, violence, isolation, troubled relationships, sexism, and racism. She also focuses on the strengths of African American women, such as the strength of family, religious faith, empowerment, and feelings of self worth.

Interesting factoids:

1. She was blinded in one eye after a childhood accident.

2. She married  Mel Leventhal, a Jewish civil rights lawyer in 1965. They were the first interracial couple to be married in Mississippi.

3. She has a daughter named Rebecca who was born in 1969.

4. She had a love affair with Tracy Chapman.

5. Musicial/Commedian Reggie Watts is Walker’s second cousin

6. On December 6, 2006, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and First Lady Maria Shriver inducted Alice Walker into the California Hall of Fame located at The California Museum for History, Women, and the Arts.

Born: February 9, 1944 in Georgia

Influences:  Howard Zinn, Zora Neal Hurston

Influenced: Gayl Jones

Education: Valedictorian of High School Class,  graduate of Sara Lawrence College in 1965.

Awards: (Taken From Wikipedia)

In 1983, The Color Purple won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, making Walker the first African-American woman to win, as well as the National Book Award.

Walker also won the 1986 O. Henry Award for her short story “Kindred Spirits”, published in Esquire magazine in August of 1985.

In 1997 she was honored by the American Humanist Association as “Humanist of the Year”

She has also received a number of other awards for her body of work, including:

  • The Lillian Smith Award from the National Endowment for the Arts
  • The Rosenthal Award from the National Institute of Arts & Letters
  • The Radcliffe Institute Fellowship, the Merrill Fellowship, and a Guggenheim Fellowship
  • The Front Page Award for Best Magazine Criticism from the Newswoman’s Club of New York

Novels and short story collections

  • The Third Life of Grange Copeland (1970)
  • Everyday Use (1973)
  • In Love and Trouble: Stories of Black Women (1973)
  • Roselily (1973)
  • Meridian (novel) (1976)
  • The Color Purple (1982)
  • You Can’t Keep a Good Woman Down: Stories (1982)
  • Beauty: When the Other Dancer Is the Self (1983)
  • To Hell With Dying (1988)
  • The Temple of My Familiar (1989)
  • Finding the Green Stone (1991)
  • Possessing the Secret of Joy (1992)
  • The Complete Stories (1994)
  • By The Light of My Father’s Smile (1998)
  • The Way Forward Is with a Broken Heart (2000)
  • Now Is The Time to Open Your Heart (2005)

Add comment February 29, 2008 cvandebrake

Kindred part 2

After reading the second reading assignment for Kindred, I am starting to have a very bad feeling about Dana’s future. She was caught with the book again and I just knew she was going to eventually end up getting whipped by Rufus’ father. I also have a really bad feeling that somehow Dana will be separated from Kevin and stuck in the antebellum South by herself as a permanent slave for Rufus’ father.

I keep waiting for Alice or her mother to show up again. I’m looking forward to figuring out how Alice and Rufus eventually get together, especially in the midst of such extreme racism on the plantation.

We are starting to see Rufus morphing into the spitting image of his father, which is a really scary thought. As he grows older, he seems to become more and more like his dad. The anger in his face when he was yelling at his mother to leave him alone was a disturbing picture for both Dana and the reader. I really felt bad for Rufus when the doctor was “fixing” his leg, which obviously is not healing properly because it has been two months and he’s still stuck in bed. I can’t imagine the pain of having someone mess with my broken bones without any anesthetics or painkillers.

I was also extremely disturbed when Dana and Kevin witnessed the children playing the “sell the slave” game. I thought it was really sick and twisted that they play the game like normal kids would play house. Children act out what they know, and it is sad to see that they are playing out their future in a disturbing fashion. That’s their life, and that made me really sad for them.

Rufus’ mother is a pathetic pile of crap. She can’t read, can’t write, and hates anyone who is smarter than her, which is everyone! She clings to Rufus and his father until they both scream and her and push her away, and then she tries to get with Kevin because she knows her husband is cheating on her. She is the epitome of stupidity.

I really hope that Sara gets reunited with her children, though I don’t see that happening in the near future. She seems like a very strong female character, and its nice to see  tougher female characters within novels. Dana is a strong female character, too. I just get sick of all these male-dominated novels with wimpy bimbo women. This is definitely nice to see them out there, strong and tough. I laughed out loud when Sara said “Miss Margaret…bitch!”

That was my random chain of thoughts on the second reading assignment! I am interested to see how Kevin is going to react to Dana’s whipping. I think the $hit is going to hit the fan, so to speak. 🙂

Add comment February 25, 2008 cvandebrake

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