Tuesday, July 15, 2008


The title of the post says it all. Grad school's demanding, and there's little time right now for recreational reading. Or recreational writing. Hopefully I'll have some time to post over the weekend, but I can't make promises. For right now, I'm going to have to say that school takes precedence and when the summer session's over, I'll be back.

Friday, July 4, 2008

The Red Candle

From The Joy Luck Club

I'm choosing to skip this one if only because there's a recent post about self-awareness, which is also the major thematic idea of this particular short story. I do want to point out the similarities between Lindo and Danny (The Chosen). One, they found themselves in silence: Danny in the silent relationship with his father and Lindo in following the orders of her new family. Additionally, they realized the importance of what their parents asked them to do but did not allow the obedience they were obliged to give to their parents, whether because of the Commandments or because of honor, overwhelm their own sense of self. That's huge. That's saying, I can do what my parents ask of me and still have space left over to be who I am and no one can take that away from me no matter what.


From The Joy Luck Club

I'm sure I mentioned before that The Joy Luck Club is separated into four sections, each with four stories. The first four stories are the stories of the mothers from when they were children in China. In the second story, "Scar," An-mei learns the importance of honor to a family. (I'm not going to summarize what happens this time, and I'm going to make an effort to discontinue that practice.)

My comments for this short story are to do with the fact that I wonder if there is honor in families anymore. I used to be afraid to get into trouble in school because it would reflect poorly upon my mother and I'd get it when I got home. But I see so many people boast about the trouble their kinsmen find themselves in. There was a time when airing ones dirty laundry was a bad thing. But now we have high schoolers boasting that they're pregnant and their future is put on hold to begin a life of child rearing. Where is the honor in that? Why don't we hear about the kids who went out and did something good and brought honor to their family name? Why don't we hear people say, "That's my brother who just got into law school," or "That's my sister who just got her nursing license"?

Maybe honor has a different value for people in the east. Maybe because the United States is such a melting pot or salad or whatever you choose to call it, the eastern ideals, like honor, got lost in the mix.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

The Joy Luck Club

From The Joy Luck Club

There is one particular passage I wanted to look at from this story. Jing-mei is telling the reader about her Auntie An-mei's trip to China to visit her brother. With her she took a suitcase of goodies (M&Ms and such) and a suitcase of clothes. She was warned by Suyuan that all her family wanted was money, but An-mei paid her no heed.
As my mother told it, "Auntie An-mei had cried before she left for China, thinking she would make her brother very rich an happy by communist standards. But when she got home, she cried to me that everyone had a palm out and she was the only one who left with an empty hand. (36)
This is about appreciation. This is about being grateful for what others are willing to sacrifice for you. This is another one about my students. They're like baby birds that refuse to grow up and attempt to use their wings. Mama has always put the food directly in their mouths, so why should teachers be any different. Except that tabula rasa is a myth and the banking method doesn't work. But they've got their hands out. Give me food; give me paper; give me a pencil. All of these things and expect no consequence. I give you nothing in return.

Give me the answers.

It is not in procuring the answers that learning occurs. It is in the process of finding the answer that we become smarter.
You know Thomas Edison tried and failed nearly 2,000 times to develop the carbonized cotton thread filament for the incandescent light bulb... When asked about it he said "I didn't fail. I found out 2,000 ways how not to make a light bulb." (National Treasure)
That's what I'm talking about.

National Treasure. Dir. Jon Turteltaub. Perf. Nicholas Cage, Diane Kruger, Justin Bartha, Sean Bean. 2004. DVD. Buena Vista Home Entertainment, 2005.

Tan, Amy. The Joy Luck Club. New York: Vintage Contemporaries, 1989.

The Man in the Black Suit

from Everything's Eventual

This tale was told to King by one of his friends, claiming that it had actually happened. King also said that it was based on the same ideas as Nathanial Hawthorne's "Young Goodman Brown" from Mosses from an Old Manse. "The Man in the Black Suit" is not a Faustian tale, which is what I usually think of when I think of people conversing with the devil.

The only similarity I could really find between the two texts is the devil character. In "Young Goodman Brown" the devil's purpose is to shake the faith (or Faith) of the goodman, whereas in "The Man in the Black Suit" the devil seems to just be hungry. On second thought, however, in both stories the devil does employ the tactic of using someone close to try and sway the protagonist. In "Young Goodman Brown," Brown sees his wife, Faith, among the converts in the woods. In "The Man in the Black Suit," Gary, the protagonist, is told by the devil about the death of his mother.

I remember talking about the symbolism of the name Faith when I studied this story in college. She is not only his wife, but represents his faith in God as well. As he leaves her he says, "My love and my faith...this one night I must tarry from thee." (The link to the ebook is above.) Brown knows with whom he's meeting when he leaves his wife. For so many children, their faith is tied to the faith of their parents. So the supposed death of Gary's mother shakes him as much as seeing Faith in the woods with the devil.

I'm going to have to admit that neither of these stories ranks high on my list of favorites. I also must admit that I bought Everything's Eventual because I wanted to read "1408" before seeing the movie. Since I purchased the entire book, however, I am going to read the entire book from front to back.

Feathers from a Thousand Li Away

Before the stories of the first part begin, there is an anecdote about a woman and a swan and their travels from China to America. She wants to give the swan to her American-born daughter and with it "all [her] good intentions" (18). Her daughter will speak perfect American English and will not be looked down upon and measured by the worth of the man she's attached to.

With "all my good intentions" (18) comes a hope that her child will have a better life than the one she had. I grew up with my father telling me the same thing. Yes, you have to work twice as hard to get half as much, but I want your life to be better than mine. That's what all parents should want for their children.

Unfortunately, such is not the case. During the school year I see so many children whose parents couldn't care less about them. Or I see children who view their parents' lives as satisfactory, so they place no value in their education. These are the children who say that they're only in school because "it's the law." It pains me that there is no hope of better in these children. That's what's hard at the end of the day. The parents who have given up on their children, the parents who have not instilled a want for better in their children, the parents who allow their children to settle for what's already in front of them rather than striving to be something more.

To these children I give my hope. It has come from afar and with it comes all my good intentions. May it be a light to one in darkness who wants to find their way.

Tan, Amy. The Joy Luck Club. New York: Vintage Contemporaries, 1989.

Introduction to the Joy Luck Club

Disclaimer: If this post seems a little out of sorts with my other posts it is because I'm going to use it to teach my class about previewing text. Hopefully they'll learn that there are a number of things one can learn about a text before it is actually read.

Before I can even get started with this one, I have to mention that I hear Joy Luck Club and I automatically think Ming Na. How many actors play characters with the same name? I remember watching this movie with my mother multiple times, and never from the beginning long before I found out it was a book. I think I finally made the connection in college; we read either "Two Kinds" or "Rules of the Game" in one of my many literature classes. More than likely it was "Rules of the Game"; I remember something about Waverly and chess. These stories take me back.

In previewing the text (or looking at the table of contents), we find that it's broken up into four parts, each having four stories told by four different people. On the title page we find that there are four mothers and four daughters who are telling these stories, but one name is missing from the narrative. Suyuan Woo doesn't tell any of the stories. Instead, we find that Jing-mei tells stories in all four parts, whereas each of the others (both mothers and daughters) tell two stories each. I can infer from there that something has happened to Jing-mei's mother that caused Jing-mei to take her place.

I wonder in what way Jing-mei has to take the place of her mother.
What is the Joy Luck Club?
What happened to Jing-mei's mom that required Jing-mei to take her place?

The Chosen: Book Three

It took me the entire book, I'm embarrassed to say, to realize that the story was not about Reuven's journey so much as Danny's journey. It is the fact that Reuven does not understand the ways of Danny's people or the methods of Danny's father that make the story really about him.

Reb Saunders, Danny's father, chose to rear Danny in silence. They never spoke unless they were studying Talmud. Rabbi Saunders's goal was to guide his son to find his soul. The only way to discover one's soul is through inner reflection. This statement I can sort-of agree with; in high school I realized my Self through a few years of self-imposed silence. Between that and the philosophical reading I've done since I'm pretty aware of my Self (no, the separation of the two words is not a mistake). I think that is what Reb Saunders wanted for his son, not only to understand the great gift of mind that he'd been given, but to also know his Self so he could better serve his people.

Even Reb Saunders makes a journey through the novel. He is aware that he closes himself off to the world, justifying it by not wanting to be tainted by the outside. When Reuven's father makes a big deal of the need for a Jewish state, Saunders tells Danny he and Reuven are not allowed to see each other anymore. Once Israel is established, the boys renew their friendship. Reb Saunders asks after Reuven. Saunders speaks to his son through Reuven, which I thought was an interesting way to do things, though I do not understand. Saunders uses Reuven to tell Danny that he can become a psychologist. He uses Reuven to tell Danny that "All his life he will be tzaddik. He will be a tzaddik for the world. And the world needs a tzaddik" (287). Saunders has realized the good his son can do for not only his people, but for people outside the Hasidim as well.

What we see here is more of the evolution of religious ideas. The evolution of ideas, like the evolution of any living creature is a slow process. By suggesting that the world could use Danny's mind, we see a tzaddik looking at his son with more than the eyes of his people. With this openness, maybe more tzaddik will be able to affect change and encounter less opposition.

Potok, Chaim. The Chosen. New York: Ballantine Books, 1967.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

The Journey to the Great Oz

The question guiding this post is this: what significance do Dorothy's "friends" have to the story or the story's thematic ideas?

Each of Dorothy's friends is seeking something from the Wizard of Oz. If you've seen the film at all, you know this. The Scarecrow is seeking brains, the "Cowardly" Lion is seeking courage and the Tin Woodsman is seeking a heart. We know that to find these things, they don't have to go any farther than "their own backyard," but these characters are clearly not self-aware.

As the foursome are traveling to the the Emerald City, they come upon a large ditch. The only one who can actually cross the ditch, after some deliberating, is the lion. This, the lion comes up with after looking at the ditch and calculating how far he can jump in his head. His declaration is the epitome of cowardly behavior. Yes, I'm such a coward that I can jump this large ditch. And to boot, the scarecrow adds that each of the members of the party can ride across on his back. So much for not having any brains.

Then they walk some more and come upon a larger ravine. The lion can't jump this one. Oh, what are they going to do. No, the scarecrow has another idea. Why doesn't the tin man cut down one of the large trees so that it falls across the ravine. Then they can all just walk across. No brains my ass. And they're being followed by these guys who have the body of a bear and the head of a tiger. Our friend the coward staves them off for a moment by growling loudly at them, then scurrying across the log. The brainless one tells the tin man to cut the tree so they fall in the ravine.

Moral more than thematic idea: Being self-aware keeps you from going out of your way to search for something you already have. Then one can argue that the purpose of Dorothy's friends is to show her that she already possesses all the knowledge she needs to accomplish her goal, she just has to look inward to find it.