Friday, April 4, 2008

Reflective Essay

As summer ended and senior year started, once again I felt the struggle of trudging through English class. Although I generally receive high marks, most of my writing felt bland and simplistic. Whenever, a new writing assignment was given out, I, like most other students, shivered at the thought of writing it, possibly spending hours on one assignment as the rest of my homework was put aside.

Reading on the other hand seemed like a completely different matter. It wasn’t that I couldn’t read the books, it’s just that I had no real interest. Who cares about Meursault going insane due to his cigarette craving and lust? So what if Stephen Dedalus felt guilty about his sins? To me, reading was like a form of torture. As I flipped the page, I’m bombarded by another page of words and I am yet again forced to reluctantly strain my eyes and my brain.

Gradually, as the year went on, I noticed that I was spending less time on my English assignments. I spent less time thinking about writing and I somehow was able to string my thoughts together so that they flowed like a long, elegant ribbon. The continuous pounding of the keyboard became sentences that I would never have written in the past. The results previous years of high school English classes were finally starting to show.

I became accustomed to my writing technique. I’d toss any formatting guidelines or page requirements until the very end, focusing entirely on my writing. I looked back on my clumsy freshman papers that lacked thesis and had poor syntax and passive tone. The words were the same, yet, they were woven together in a comprehensible manner. All my thoughts were relevant and, more importantly, I became more confident in my writing. As my confidence grew, my voice found its way onto my words and I was able to enjoy writing for the first time in years.

My reading was still subpar compared to my writing. My classmates were able to read as if it were no problem at all, yet I found myself taking hours more to read the same material. One day, the mention of a social commentary, Ghettonation, piqued my interests. As I read it for my outside reading book, I found myself engaged and wanting to read. Why was it that I was so willing to read Ghettonation? I soon realized that it was because the themes introduced in Ghettonation were relevant to me. Knowing this, I soon applied the idea of personal relevance in reading and my reading ability soon grew alongside my writing. My preferences in reading did not change much but I was still able to find ways to write what I wanted to write. As engaging or full of passion that Hamlet or Meursault may be, I’d set him aside in my mind for other, perhaps overlooked characters like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern or Raymond. I did not take on any assignment knowing that I’d hate it, struggling with conflicting thoughts and working in frustration. Reading any form of literature was just a matter of honing my interests and close reading. While I was interested in Hamlet’s famous “to be or not to be” soliloquy, I was also interested, perhaps even more so in Rosencrantz telling King Claudius that he is in the center of the wheel that is Denmark.

This idea of relevance is central to my growth in appreciating literature. Why was I in English class in the first place? Was it only because it is required by the school board and I have been taking English classes every school year? It would be foolish if this were truly the case; I would have been better off not taking English class at all. I now worry less about my actual grade and care more about the relevant knowledge that I carry, and will continue to carry, in my mind.

Class Discussion Response

Throughout history, humans have always had a desire to obtain a sense of recognition and gain meaning in life. However, Albert Camus states that human life is absurd and through it, nothing is accomplished. In his essay, “The Myth of Sisyphus,” Camus shows through the shift in his tone and his definite, allusions to mythology, and concise diction that, although life is considered absurd and meaningless, happiness still is obtained through it.

Michael R.’s thesis seems to have good thought behind it. He clearly states his interpretation of the essay to the reader early on so the reader knows where the explication is heading. He gives a brief example of symbolism Camus uses in his essay which shows Camus’ purpose for writing it. However, he can still elaborate on the other techniques Camus uses. Otherwise, this thesis would have been ideal.

Elina has stated in class that Sisyphus’ repetitious punishment gives him meaning and supports Camus’ own views of modernism. Camus states that “at the very end of his long effort measured by skyless space and time without depth, the purpose is achieved” (2). Although he is in the underworld, he finally obtains a sense of worth. When he pushes the boulder to the top of the hill, there is a sense of achievement that is sure to fleet. Even though Sisyphus goes through so much trouble to push the rock, it is during this “hour of consciousness” (2) when the rock falls that he gets to think and is “superior to his fate” (2). In his moment of consciousness, Sisyphus discovers a flaw in human nature. All his actions are absurd, that all his efforts in pushing the boulder are, and will always be, in vain. The seemingly worthless pushing of the rock is symbolic of one’s endless struggles in life. Through the timeless myth of Sisyphus, Camus expresses his own modernist thoughts on life that nothing that is done in life will matter. Camus states that “happiness and the absurd are two sons on the same earth” (4). It is inevitable that “one always finds one’s burden again” (5). Therefore, if Sisyphus were to enjoy the moments of satisfaction throughout his eternal torment as Camus suggests, then his actions are “neither sterile nor futile” (5). It is as if every action that human beings do is only its worth.

Charles Olson Assignment

Psychoanalytical View of Stephen Dedalus

In chapter 3, the priest that Stephen confesses to is an interesting character. He does not preach of fire and brimstone and is not a father figure although he is literally called father. He is forgiving unlike the other father figures [that Stephen encounters]. If anything, his forgiving nature resembles that of his mother. One can psychoanalytically interpret Stephen's obedience toward the priest as his own affection and obedience toward his mother. In a way, this might suggest Stephen's homosexuality and preference to his feminine side. To Stephen, religion is his new comfort zone and, in essence, is his [metaphorical] womb. However, he learns that religion restricts him and he has more opportunity outside of the metaphorical womb than within it.

From Brute to Man of Pride

When society thinks of a person of meaning, it usually thinks of some heroic figure, waging a war or assisting comrades in need. However, in “Plum Plum Pickers,” Raymond Barrio transforms Manuel Gutiérrez, an ordinary, lowly apricot picker, into a man of purpose and pride. Through well planned writing, terse sentences, and intense symbolism, Barrio describes Manuel as both a worker, mechanical and crude, and a true man, proud until death.

Barrio starts his story focusing on Manuel, setting the reader in a vast apricot field. He is trapped within the trees as if they were the “blackest bars on the jails of hell” (40). With such strong symbolism used from the very start, Barrio already creates an image in the reader’s mind that Manuel is suffering unbearable torture. He then describes Manuel as a brute in a series of short sentences describing Manuel and his actions, many of which do not use verbs. Barrio uses these sentences to directly convey powerful emotions and thoughts. He truly makes it seem as though Manuel is a “refined wreck of an animal” (40) as he deliberately strips whatever human qualities that Manuel has. Manuel does not even have a proper name throughout the introduction.

Barrio’s sentences are not only used for description, but also for manipulating the reader’s emotions when appropriate. Through simple one word paragraphs, Barrio transitions abruptly through hours in a workday in a mere second. The declarations of “Lunch,” Midafternoon,” and “Ended” (40) are given the ability to warp the reader’s sense of time, making Manuel’s work seem all the more monotonous and excruciating. It is as though anything up until that point does not matter, that anything Manuel does has no impact on the world. The sentences also break his structured, traditional writing and increase with intensity as the story goes on. As Manuel rests during his lunch break, his one moment of peace, Manuel is reminded of “the trees,” “the branches again,” “the briarly branches,” “the scratching leaves” (40). Barrio’s sentences also reestablish the fact that Manuel is working in a hellish environment.

Although Manuel seems helpless, Barrio makes Manuel more of a human than those of higher status of him. Barrio attacks the images of the successful Robert Morales and his rich, guilt-free employers in the same manner that he degrades Manuel through his short sentences that stir up thought. Morales: “A real robber. A Mexican general. A gentlemanly, friendly, polite, grinning, vicious, thieving brute. The worst kind” (40). The shameless employers responsible for hiring such a hideous man: They were honest, those güeros. They could sleep at night. They fulfilled their end of the bargain and cheated no one” (40-41). People that do seem to have purpose, that have more important tasks than picking apricots, are not superior to Manuel. Manuel may appear to be a brute but he demonstrates that he is more of a human than his fellow workers and his superiors by defending his honor.

Manuel’s defiance is shown in a “stupid, accidental, dangerous way” (41) but he stands for his rights unlike everyone around him. Through his defiance, he makes a discovery that Barrio believes rivals even Don Gaspar’s discovery of the Californian coast. He discovers that “men are built to experience a certain sense of honor and pride” (41). Barrio’s choice of character shows that nothing prevents people from being human, that even the lowliest of men can be human so long as they have their dignity.

Winter Break Reading Assignment

The significance of the title of the chapter "The Dream" is the plan that Owen predicts for himself surrounding his death. In the beginning of the chapter, Owen states that "GOD HAS TAKEN MY HANDS. I AM GOD'S INSTRUMENT" (337). Irving starts off the chapter by giving the reader a sense of Owen's faith and purpose to God. By having Owen boast of his importance, the reader is more likely to see Owen's dream as the future that God has fated. Additionally, Irving elevates Owen again by having him state, "IF GOD GAVE ME THIS VOICE, HE HAD A REASON" (353). Mr. McSwiney confirms that Owen's voice will not change unless something is done, hence why Owen writes in his diary that his voice will not change and that he is God's instrument in the end of the chapter. The title itself is referring to the dreams that Owen continuously has. Pastor Merrill assures him that it is just a dream but Owen is insistent on it being the truth as the reader realizes in the last chapter. The reader learns that it is because of this dream that Owen is troubled since Jogn says that this is one of the few moments when he sees Owen cry. Owen writes in his diary, "I KNOW WHEN I'M GOING TO DIE. I'M GOING TO BE A HERO" (416). The reader realizes that Owen has had the dream ever since the Christmas Carol play due to the manner he writes his name as first lieutenant Paul O. Meany Jr. as it was on his gravestone that day. This further explains his insistence on completing The SHot in under four seconds and his joining the ROTC. The reader realizes that it is as if Owen lived his entire life in anticipation of his dream, even as early as his high school days.

Vonnegut Short Story


Day in and day out, in a research laboratory in southern Detroit, there was a scientist that always left in the late evening named Harold Nekrasov. He’d leave the building, dragging his feet after a long day of accomplishing little. After the Cold War, Nekrasov was one of the many Soviet scientists that were in need of a job. An American shoe company hired him to do research, to help make a sole that was more cost efficient. He was paid a pitiful four dollars and twenty five cents an hour.

He had but one friend, a janitor named Argo Fedoseev, a fellow former Soviet that has been working in the laboratory long before Nekrasov. Fedoseev was an old, ornery man that had no teeth. The neighborhood child would point and laugh at him and his raggedy clothing in his broken shack and he would always fight back. But Nekrasov was happy nonetheless that he found someone he could interact with, someone that could understand him.

Little did the world know, in that small building was an incredible accomplishment. Nekrasov helped develop a new box material that would soon be used for the next generation sneakers. Its attributes were similar to cardboard. However, the difference was the space between the pieces. The spacing to this cardboard was incredibly compact; it’s as if there was only enough with for an oxygen molecule to get through. Nothing could damage it, it seemed to be invulnerable. This ultimate cardboard would revolutionize packaging around the world. He told Fedoseev of the indestructible material and how he would make the both of them rich.

One day, Sergeant Jameson paid visit to the research laboratory with two soldier escorts.

“What can I do for you?” asked Nekrasov timidly.

“Somebody here wanted to sell an item of the utmost important to the military,” replied Jameson officially.

“You must be mistaken. There was no such call.”

Fedoseev came in the room in a lab coat, anticipating the arrival. “Ah! Sergeant sir. This is the cardboard I told you about.”

“Mister Fedoreev. This will be a great asset to the military. Thank you for your assistance. Your check will arrive in the mail shortly. Take it away,” said Jameson. He grinned and motioned for the soldiers to grab the cardboard. They left the laboratory laughing, Nekrasov speechless.

Within a year, the cardboard was being used by the American military to create tanks, planes, vests, anything they could out of it. They raided the old Soviet Russia and killed the entire population.

Nekrasov visited Fedoseev in his shack one day. He took out a newly purchased pistol and shot Fedoseev’s throat and twice in the heart. He made his way to the Detroit River, hung a sign over his neck, shot himself in the head, and sank into the water. On the sign, Nekrasov wrote, “GOD IS MONEY.” At Fedoseev’s door was a check by the United States government for one hundred dollars.