William Faulkner, Absalom, Absalom!

Faulkner, William. Absalom, Absalom! Random House, 1936.

Summary of Work
This work is a frame narrative, with Rosa, the sister-in-law to Thomas Sutpen, telling the story of the Sutpen family to the Compson boy because she hopes he will write the story down, and he believes that it will show why God let the South lose the war, because of the infamy of people like Thomas Sutpen. Quentin Compson, the grandson of Sutpen’s friend General Compson, is getting ready to go to Harvard when he is summoned to talk with Sutpen’s sister-in-law, and she tells him about how Sutpen destroyed his own family and hers as well.

In the mid 1800s, Thomas Sutpen buys a hundred square miles of land in the Jefferson, Mississippi area from an indian tribe and clears the land, builds a home, and plants cotton. Many see him as some sort of barbarian or demon, because Sutpen often holds fights between the slaves, and he often participated in them. He marries a local merchant’s daughter, Ellen, and soon he becomes a member of the planter aristocracy and has a son and daughter. The children do not change Sutpen, who still hosts fights and participates, and one evening the children view it, Henry in terror, and Judith in fascination. Judith is angry to have to leave the scene, and Ellen realizes that Judith has her father’s temperament. Upon her death bed, she asks her sister to look after Judith, even though Judith is older than Rosa.

Quentin’s father confirms this story, stating similar details, but including that upon deciding to marry, he went to church, left town, came back with a bunch of finery for his home, and then went to court Ellen. However, the men of the town, believing that Sutpen had gotten his money from criminal activity, found him after he had proposed to Ellen and arrested him, and Compson and another friend had to get him out of jail. Two months later he was married. Ellen was dismayed on her wedding day, and of a hundred people invited, only ten people attended the wedding, and on the way out of the church, the couple were hit with rubbish as they walked. When Quentin asks about why Rosa is telling this story, Compson tells him that she was raised by an aunt after her father killed himself in order to not go to the war, and she hated her father for her mother’s death. Rosa was the one who came back to try and save Judith from the Sutpin fate, and she sought to do that by perhaps marrying Sutpin, she just twenty years old at the time. According to Compson, she was taking care of Judith and Clytie, Sutpen’s daughter by a slave girl, when Sutpen came home from the war.

Compson also explains to his son that before Rosa moved to the Sutpen home, she went sporadically to the Sutpen home with family members, and as Sutpen became the richest planter in the country and therefore became socially accepted, her sister Ellen first started taking her on fancy shopping trips and hosting parties, and then slowly became estranged from Rosa. It was also at this time that Sutpen was taking off to new Orleans in search of Charles Bon, his son by a black woman, although at the time people did not know it. As Compson tells it, the word about Bon being Henry and Judith’s half brother came from Sutpen’s slaves rather than from a family member. Rosa was largely left in the dark, unaware of the blood relation of Judith’s fiancee Bon until much later, and after the war when the Sutpen plantation was largely ruined and they didn’t know who was alive and who was dead, she at first refused to come to the plantation because she was uncertain of the situation.

That evening, Compson continued the story, handing Quentin a letter that Bon had written many years previous to Judith. He then talks about how Henry, Sutpen’s son by Ellen, goes to college at the University of Mississippi and becomes friends with Charles Bon, bringing him home for Christmas one year. Charles falls in love with his sister Judith, and he asks her to marry him, but by this time, Sutpen has realized that Charles is his son, and Judith’s half brother, and so they cannot marry. This is particularly important because his wife from that time was an octoroon, and he had abandoned her and the child afterward. The situation was one that he became entangled with her when he was at an octoroon ball, a space for octoroon women to attract wealthy white men as either husbands or benefactors. Henry is outraged when his father tells him, refusing to believe that Charles could have known this and still decided to ask his sister to marry him. Henry, in that outrage, gives up his birthright and runs to New Orleans with Charles, where they enlist in the army to fight in the Civil War for the Confederacy. Bon quickly rises to the rank of lieutenant, and he is regularly talking to Henry about the situation; Henry tells him not to write to Judith because he hasn’t decided if it is okay for him to marry her yet, and he also has sexual feelings for Bon, and is conflicted about the incest. Sutpen also fights in the war as a colonel, and he finds his son to tell him again that Charles is his half brother and that he is also a black man. When Sutpen explains Charles’ race, Henry goes to find Charles and murder him before he marries Judith, and he does murder him at the gate of the Sutpen plantation.

Rosa tells Quentin that when Sutpen returned, he went right about rebuilding the plantation, not even surprised or upset about Bon’s death and Judith’s reaction. He hardly recognized Rosa, and she soon found herself engaged to him. However, when he found the plantation to be unsalvageable, he insulted her so badly that she left the plantation and lived off of stealing food from her neighbor’s gardens, refusing to accept help. She also says that she thinks that someone other than Clytie is living in the manor there at the plantation, although she is not sure whom it is.

When Quentin goes back to Harvard, he tells his roommate Shreve the story, including the later years of Sutpen’s life. Sutpen becomes an alcoholic and has an affair with a teenage girl, Milly. Milly gets pregnant, and after the birth of their daughter, who dies along with Milly, Wash Jones, Milly’s grandfather, murders Sutpen. Judith dies of yellow fever along with other members of the family, and Clytie raises the son of Charles Bon, found in New Orleans after he visited his father’s grave. His son is strange and works what is left of the Sutpen land.

Mr. Compson also told Quentin about how he learned Sutpen’s actual life story from him when they were hunting for a fugitive architect who had run away from Sutpen’s plantation. Sutpen was from a poor family and quickly learned he wanted money and land, and so set out for the Caribbean and made his name in the sugar plantation business, and he married a plantation owner’s daughter. It was only after they had a child together that he learned of her African blood, and so he left with twenty slaves and built the plantation. When Sutpen’s son came back to haunt him, he had a choice: remain quiet and let his dynasty continue on or speak out. He chose to speak to Henry, and when the word brother failed, he determined that the word race would not, and he was correct. After that, he could never rebuild his dying legacy. When he left Milly with her child in a stable, that was when Wash Jones lost his mind, killed his granddaughter and great granddaughter, killed Sutpen, and then went around killing others with a scythe until he was arrested.

Quentin Compson can’t stop thinking about the story, and he and Shreve speculate on the other people’s perspectives of the story, particularly Charles Bon’s. The evening after he and Shreve speculate, he can’t sleep as he remembers going back to the plantation with Sutpen’s sister-in-law, and there they unexpectedly meet Henry, who is an old man waiting to die. They go back to get an ambulance to go get Henry, but before they can get in, Clytie, the child of Sutpen and a slave woman who is now an old woman herself, burns the house down and kills them both before they can get him, which brings the Sutpen family legacy to an end. In the end, Quentin, obsessing, tries to tell himself that he doesn’t hate the South.

Discussion of Work
The plot line of this work, quickly summarized, would seem rather simple and make for a short story: man moves to the South, builds a plantation, marries and has children, his past comes back to haunt him, and it destroys the entire family. And yet, the story is not that straightforward, because we are not getting the narrative from the main character, Thomas Sutpen. Instead, we are getting the story through a pieced together history which includes plenty of speculation both from the people telling the story and the people it’s being told to. Narrative is obscured by its nonlinear telling, with certain pieces  of information being given either earlier or later in the story, leaving the reader to piece together the full tale both on their own and with Quentin, who is the most akin to the reader.

Miscegenation is the main issue of the work, of particular importance because of its placement in the US South. Sutpen seems less than human, dangerous, or animalistic throughout the work, more so as he ages. As the story is told of his strange relationship with his slaves, he occupies a liminal space between white and black, even though he is a white man. As the narrators detail it, Sutpen himself goes into decline the moment that he marries an octoroon, because he has been legally intimate with her and has a legitimate son by her; it is this miscegenation that leads to potential incest. Still, the issue of miscegenation is by far of greater importance not only to Sutpen and his son Henry, but to everyone who is telling the story. The obsession with race, even to the tracking of the “one drop” of black blood, makes clear to readers that Faulkner is showing them that the South’s racial prejudice and obsession is what leads to the Southern aristocracy’s downfall more than any other failing in their society. Even the black community members in the story feel this, as Clytie is the one who burns down the house, and Wash Jones is the one who goes on a killing spree after Sutpen leaves his granddaughter. Black people are still objects to Sutpen, as they are to all the white people in the community, and the inability to see them as human beings leads not only to their downfall, but to the destruction of the black people’s humanity: constantly treated as animals or subhuman, they can only tolerate the South for so long before they snap and destroy themselves or are destroyed by the white community surrounding them.

 

Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quixote

Cervantes, Miguel de. Don Quixote. Trans. Edith Grossman. Ecco, 2005.

Summary of Work
For the purposes of time for studying for my comprehensive exams, I have elected to only read the first part of Don Quixote for my studies. What follows is a summary of the first part.

Cervantes begins his novel by having a conversation with a friend who tells Cervantes that he should write the tale (completely true!) of Don Quixote as he will, and then add all the proper embellishments in later, since that seems the easiest way to get things started. Cervantes agrees and begins the tale, urging readers to simply enjoy what he’s written in its simple format.

Don Quixote started out as an eccentric minor nobleman in the village of La Mancha. He had a great estate, but he did not care for it and kept selling pieces of it off in order to buy more books about chivalry and knights errant, since he loved to read the tales in them. By his late middle age, he decides he will become a knight-errant like the men he read about in his books, and he prepares armor and his horse, an old nag who he names Rocinante, and gives himself the name Don Quixote de la Mancha. He also decides he needs a lady to perform the deeds for, so he renames a farm girl he cares for Dulcinea del Toboso to dedicate his deeds to.

He sets off and stops at an inn for the evening, and believes that the inn is a castle and the innkeeper a king who has been enchanted to look like an innkeeper. He also mistakes prostitutes for princesses, and he recites poetry to them. He struggles and is unable to remove his helmet he has made for himself, so he eats dinner through the opening in the helmet, all the while believing he is being entertained in a castle. While he is there, he realizes he has not been knighted, and so he asks the innkeeper to knight him. The innkeeper talks to him about it and when he asks for payment, he discovers Don Quixote has no money, and so the innkeeper tells him he must carry money. Don Quixote said that the knights of old never carried any and were always provided for, and so he saw no need to carry money, which is why he had none on him.

That night he keeps vigil in the stables because he believes that will allow him to be knighted in the morning. While he is speaking of Dulcinea and keeping watch, more guests arrive. In trying to get water for their animals, they move Don Quixote’s armor, and it infuriates him so that he kills one of the guests and knocks another unconscious. Mortified, the innkeeper quickly performs a bizarre knighting ceremony and sends him on his way. Don Quixote determines to go home to get more clothing and some money, and he encounters a master whipping his young servant. He stops the farmer and asks what is going on, and the farmer boy says that he is being whipped because he complained about not getting the wages promised him. Don Quixote tells the farmer to pay him and makes him swear he will by the name of knighthood, and Don Quixote continues on, disregarding the farm boy’s plea to go back to the house with them to ensure that he was paid before he left. When Don Quixote leaves, the farmer goes back to whipping the boy even harder than he had previously been doing.

Later on the journey, Don Quixote meets a group of merchants, and he tries to order them to claim that Dulcinea is the most beautiful woman alive. When they ask for a picture so they can see her before they say she is the most beautiful, they insult him and he starts to attack, but Rocinante stumbles and the merchants beat him. He is left lying in the road. A laborer from his village finds him and carries him on his mule back to La Mancha, Rocinante in tow. Don Quixote is busy discussing how his trials are like those of knights of old, and the villager realizes that he is insane. He takes Don Quixote back to his own house, where the barber and priest are visiting at the behest of family members who are worried that the books in the home have driven Don Quixote to madness.

The priest and barber work together to go through Quixote’s books and burn the ones on chivalry that they find inappropriate. His niece wants them to burn all the books there. Still, the priest goes through the titles, saving some because of rarity or virtue, and wants to keep the poetry, but the niece persuades them not to because then her uncle may become a poet, which would be even worse than he is now. He also finds a novel by Cervantes, which he keeps in hopes that there will be a sequel to the novel.

Don Quixote wakes, delusional, and wants to get to the library, but he finds it walled off. He believes an enchanter has done it to keep him from his books and has carried off the books on a dragon, as per what his niece told him. Quixote believes the enchanter to be his nemesis, and believes he will defeat him. he determines to sally forth again, this time with a squire, Sancho Panza.

They first come to a field of windmills, which Quixote believes are giants, and he charges them, injuring himself as he finds that they “become windmills” as he goes to attack because the enchanter changed them to windmills. He finds a replacement for his lance by breaking off a tree limb, and when Sancho complains about hunger, Quixote explains that often they may go without food and have to weather the elements, and that knights do not complain about these things. A few days later, they encounter monks taking a lady and attendants on a journey, and Quixote insists that the lady is a damsel in distress, and he attacks the monks, knocking one down. Sancho tries to steal that monk’s clothing as spoils of war, but is soundly beaten for it. The monks ride off, and Quixote tells the ladies they must go to Toboso to tell Dulcinea of his grand deed. One of her attendants gets angry at him, and they do battle, but mid-battle the narrative cuts off due to a supposed end in the manuscript at hand.

Next Cervantes describes the process of finding the rest of the tale, finding the tale written on Arabic parchment. He hires a Moor to read and translate the stories, and the narrative continues.

The attendant cuts Quixote’s ear, and he knocks the man down in return, threatening to kill him. He spares him only because the ladies promise they all will present themselves to Dulcinea. After the battle, Sancho asks his master for an island to be governor of, believing he has earned it. He also worries that they might go to jail for what they have done, but Don Quixote ensures him that knights-errant and their squires never go to jail.

That evening, they join a group of goatherds for the night and learn the tale of the woman Marcela, who was the cause of Chrysostom’s death, for he loved her and she rejected him. As they go to the funeral, Marcela appears and makes her case for her not being at fault for his death, for she told him that she was not interested in marriage when they first met. Afterward, they go to an inn for the evening, which he mistakes again for another castle. There, the women attend to Don Quixote’s wounds, and he believes that the innkeeper’s daughter has fallen in love with him and will come to try and tempt him to sleep with her, when in actuality, Maritornes, the servant woman, is coming in to share a bed with a carrier, who also happens to be sleeping in the same space as Sancho and Don Quixote. She accidentally goes to the wrong bed, and Don Quixote mistakes her for the daughter, and he tries to woo her, causing the carrier to be angry and attack. Everyone is fighting when the innkeeper comes to see what is going on. Don Quixote is passed out but believing he is dead, the officer in the inn starts an investigation.

From that moment on, Don Quixote believes the inn is enchanted, and tells Sancho so. When the officer comes in the room, Don Quixote insults him, and the officer beats him again. Don Quixote promises to heal Sancho with a potion or balsam, which calms Sancho’s anger, but after they make it and drink it, they are immediately very sick. Sancho is upset again, but then Don Quixote claims it doesn’t work on squires. They leave the inn, and refuse to pay because knights don’t pay at castles, and he rides away, but Sancho is captured and thrown and tossed in a blanket. Too hurt to get off his horse, Don Quixote watches, believing it all an enchantment, and while all the commotion is going on, the innkeeper steals Sancho’s saddle bags as payment for their stay.

They soon encounter clouds of dust, which Don Quixote thinks is two great armies, but which is actually herds of sheep, and he rides off, killing many sheep before the shepherds are able to unseat him from his horse. His explanation for the sudden change is again the sorcerer. That evening as they discuss their misfortunes, they come across mourning priests escorting a dead body; they refuse to identify themselves, and Quixote knocks one off of his horse, causing all of them to flee. Sancho, meanwhile, steals goods from the mule the priest was riding, and when the priest leaves, Sancho yells after him that this was the work of Don Quixote, the Knight of the Sorrowful Face. Don Quixote loves the title, and when he asks why he chose that, Sancho tells him that after his teeth had been badly damaged in battle, he always looks sad without them. Rather than give Sancho credit for the name, he tells him that the name was the idea of the Sage writing his life story, and that he gave it to Sancho.

Next, they see a barber travelling with a glittering basin, and Quixote believes it is the mythic Mambrino’s helmet, and he charges the barber, who runs away, leaving his mule and the basin. Sancho gets the mule’s saddle and saddle packs. He is also promised that he will have a lot of money when Don Quixote marries a rich princess.

Next, they encounter galley slaves being taken to work for their crimes, and although Sancho warns him about who they are and that the government is taking them, Don Quixote frees them and justifies it by saying that sometimes criminal actions are justified and necessary. When he tells the men to present themselves to Dulcinea, they beat him and run away with all of Sancho’s and Don Quixote’s belongings. At this point, Sancho is very concerned that the Holy Brotherhood will come after them for their misdeeds.

They next ride into the woods of the Sierra Morena, and one of the slaves accosts them again and steals Sancho’s donkey. However, they then find a saddle bag with money and clothing and a notebook, and Don Quixote gives Sancho that money to make up for the losses he’s incurred. They then see a naked man running through the woods, and they find him and hear his tale. His name is Cardenio, and he had a friend by the name of Ferdinant wooed a farmer’s daughter in secret, only he is afraid of what his father might say, so he, at the advice of Cardenio, his friend Ferdinand, asks his father for some money to go to buy some horses at Cardenio’s parents’ home. There he meets Lucinda, who is unparalleled in beauty. When he mentions that Lucinda loved books about chivalry, it gets Don Quixote talking about them, and he and Cardenio start to fight, and Cardenio runs away.

In order to do penance for what he has done, he goes deep into the woods. He also send Sancho with a dictated letter that he is to have written out and to take to Dulcinea while he is in the mountains. While Sancho is gone, Don Quixote determines that he will be like Amadis and pray in Dulcinea’s name, wandering the valley and writing poetry on the trees, going mad and rending his clothing as well. Sancho, meanwhile, runs into the priest and barber from his village and they ask him what is going on. He tells them everything, and they concoct a plan to get Quixote down from the mountains and back to the village. As they speak with Sancho, they realize that Don Quixote’s delusions have also infected Sancho, who believes Don Quixote will end up an emperor or archbishop, although he hopes not a clergyman because that will limit Sancho’s rewards.

The priest and barber borrow clothing from the innkeeper’s wife and they set out. The barber is dressed as a woman, who they are hoping Don Quixote will perform a favor for. They send Sancho ahead, telling him that he will tell Don Quixote some story about having seen Dulcinea and her response. While they wait for Sancho to bring him down the mountain a little ways, they run into Cardenio, who tells the rest of his story, explaining that Ferdinand, claiming he was wooing in Cardenio’s name, stole away Lucinda because her parents found his riches appealing. Lucinda ends up accepting his proposal, and Cardenio ran to the wilderness in grief and hatred.

While they are together, they meet a young woman named Dorothea, who tells her story of being wooed but resisting until he tricked her and she succumbed, afraid of being raped if she refused his marriage offer. Then he abandoned her, and she has been out chasing him; the party learns that the man was Ferdinand, the very man who had stolen away Lucinda. Cardenio, thrilled, learns that Ferdinand had found a letter revealing Lucinda’s love for Cardenio, and he vows to help avenge Dorothea. Dorothea then accepts the role of the damsel in distress to help the priest and barber get Don Quixote down from the mountain.

She tells Don Quixote of a giant who attacked and won her kingdom away from her and about how her father, a sorcerer, had told her that Don Quixote would be her avenger. She has him swear that he will undertake no other errand until he has helped her save her kingdom. As they all head down the mountain, Sancho gives more details of his trip to Toboso, and Don Quixote states that a sorcerer must have given him wings to fly there, because it is some distance to Toboso and he was back far too quickly for it to have been anything else. Then the young farm boy who Don Quixote thought he saved from the whip appears and tells him of his misfortunes, and he steals food and runs off, telling Don Quixote the world would be better off without interfering knights-errant.

They get back to the inn that Sancho and Don Quixote believe is enchanted, and that evening the priest reads some tales to them that came from the innkeeper’s collection. The tale he reads aloud tells of a man who had the most beautiful wife and a best friend, but he is dissatisfied because he does not know if his wife will always be faithful. He forces his friend to try to woo away his wife, which at first the friend tries not to do, but then, when his friend discovers the deception, has to do. He falls in love with the wife, and she with him, and the concoct a plan to prove her virtue to the him so that she can sleep with the friend whenever she wishes. The lady in waiting is also in on this, and she helps the scheme, but in return brings her lover to the castle whenever she pleases. This bothers the wife, but she cannot say anything about it.

Just then, Sancho bursts in and says that Don Quixote has slain the giant holding the princess’s kingdom, and he has his head. But instead, Don Quixote has been sleepwalking and has slashed the nice, full wineskins in the room he was sleeping in. Sancho, still believing it was the giant, is devastated that he cannot find the head and believes now he has lost his chance at a governorship. The priest continues the story after this interruption. One night, the husband finds that the lady-in-waiting is bringing her lover to the house, and in exchange for her life, she says she will tell him an important secret. But his wife, worried about the potential discovery, flees with his friend, and he dies of grief.

Ferdinand and Lucinda arrive in disguise to the inn, and he tells all present that he has kidnapped the girl after she tried to hide in a convent after running away from their marriage. They all reunite, and Dorothea gets Ferdinand and Cardenio receives Lucinda. At this point, Sancho is devastated that Dorothea is not a princess and he will not be rich. When Sancho tells Don Quixote, he gets angry at him and says that this is further evidence that the place is enchanted. Ferdinand agrees that Dorothea needs to keep up the act to help the priest and barber get Don Quixote home, so she does. At this point, a traveler arrives with a woman named Zoraida, and they learn that she is a Moor who is looking to be baptized after saving many Spanish men from imprisonment and falling in love with the man she is with.

All the people present, when they hear Don Quixote speak, are amazed at his intelligence, especially considering that he is so mad. That evening, they awake to the singing of a boy, and they discover that he is a lord who was in love with Clara, the daughter of a judge (who is the brother of the captive Spanish man Zoraida saved). She has never spoken with him, but she also loves him. Also that evening, Maritornes and the innkeeper’s daughter trick Don Quixote and get him hanging from the barn window by having him try and grab a harness through the window while standing atop Rocinante. He stays there all night until he falls in the morning as four horsemen arrive at the inn.

When the horsemen, servants of the young singer, discover him and try to bring him back, he refuses and the judge intervenes, asking him why he refuses to return home. The young man tells him of his love for his daughter. And as this is happening, two guests try to sneak out without paying, and a fight ensues. Don Quixote refuses to help the innkeeper because of his promise to Dorothea, angering the innkeeper, his wife, and daughter. About that time, the barber who was accosted by Sancho and Don Quixote arrives, sees his basin and the saddle pack, and demands it back. Sancho refuses, saying it is the spoils of war. Another fight breaks out, and the priest settles it by financially compensating all involved and hurt by the antics of Don Quixote and Sancho.

At this time, the Holy Brotherhood have arrived, and the recognize Don Quixote. They have a warrant for his arrest, and the priest convinces the Holy Brotherhood that Don Quixote is insane and it would be best to not arrest him but let him come home with them, because he cannot be held accountable for what he has done in madness. They determine that in order to get him back to the village, they need to build a cage on an ox cart to get him home. The barber pretends to be a sage dictating Don Quixote’s return to the village and his marriage to Dulcinea, and this prompts Don Quixote to accept he is enchanted and needs to experience affliction of this kinds. Still, he wonders why he travels slowly if he is enchanted.

They meet more people on the road, who speak together about Don Quixote. Sancho threatens the barber and priest and accuses them of being jailers, and the barber threatens to lock up Sancho too, so Sancho stays silent. He goes to talk to his master about the reality of the situation, and to prove that Don Quixote is not enchanted, he asks him if he needs to go to the bathroom, and when Don Quixote replies he does, Sancho tells him that it means he is not enchanted, for enchanted people have no such needs. He tells Sancho that there are many types of new enchantments.

The canon traveling with them starts talking to Don Quixote, and he is astounded at how easily Don Quixote mingles fact and fiction. As they talk, a goatherd is chastising a female goat. They go ask what is going on, and he talks about how he was a friend of Anselmo, the man in the story the priest read to them, and that he and his friends have been driven to a simple life because of the unfaithfulness of Leandra, a beautiful woman who ran away with a soldier to the woods and was then abandoned. She was put in a convent to recover her honor.

The goatherd, in his tale, insults Don Quixote, and they start to fight. Then Don Quixote mounts his horse, seeing an icon of the Virgin Mary which he believes to be a living, sorrowful woman. He attacks penitents on the road and ends up beaten again. Sancho believes him dead and mourns over his body, which wakes Don Quixote. They decide to go home since he is having such bad luck, and they will hopefully be able to go out again. They get home and Sancho’s wife asks what he has brought, and he promises her that he will have land and be a governor soon. Don Quixote is driven in the cart to his home, to the amazement of all in the village, and his niece and housekeeper care for him, worried that he will disappear again.

Discussion of Work
Don Quixote, considered the first, and quite often the best ever, novel, is of the picaresque genre. The work itself is very episodic: almost any scene could be taken out of the novel and read as its own short story about the knight errant. The work is also a frame narrative, with Cervantes as the main narrator, but with his narration coming from manuscripts written by other people, who have either listened to the tales firsthand or pieced it together from other sources. The obsession the author has with proving the reality of the narrative through such documentation speaks of the outward importance of the frame for readers, who enjoy this as a fictional history not unlike the books of chivalry that Don Quixote reads and becomes delusional over. The frame is made even further complex with the priest reading stories and there being fanciful romance stories like those of Cardenio’s and Zoraida’s.

The work itself raises questions about the powers of the written word and about how much access people should have to them or what people should be allowed to write. The blending of fact and fiction also becomes a concern, as the people note that Don Quixote and then Sancho, who seems to be a very rational and realistic man, cannot tell fiction and real life apart, even bringing fictional beliefs into real world situations with them.

The work itself speaks to the fact that many storytelling devices were in existence long before the novel, and the things we may consider innovations of later periods, like the frame narrative, were in fact well-developed early on in other forms of storytelling. This novel is also a great example of how a roguish character who causes all sorts of mischief can be both likable and hilarious while doing misdeeds in good spirit. Even far into the novel, readers don’t get tired of his adventures, even in their similarity, because there are always new people he encounters with interesting stories and interesting reactions to Don Quixote’s madness.

Tony Kushner, Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes

Kushner, Tony. Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes.

Theater Communication Group, 2013.

 

Summary of Work
Set in New York City in the 1980s during the Reagan years, this play centers around the judicial system: Roy M. Cohn, a power broker and successful lawyer, is trying to talk a head judicial clerk by the name of Joe Pitt into taking a job in Washington, D.C. Cohn is talking to Pitt and at the same time answering many phone calls, including one from a client from whom he took a half million dollars; she wants her money back. Cohn is using the Lord’s name in vain, and Joe gets very uncomfortable over it and asks Cohn to stop. He asks him why he doesn’t want to hear it, and Joe says that he’s Mormon and it is against his beliefs and values to use such language. At the same time, Joe tells him that he’ll have to talk to his wife about it. Cohn urges him to take the position, saying that it won’t stay available for long.

Meanwhile, Joe’s wife, Harper, is coming out of a valium high. She has dreams and hallucinations on the drugs, and she doesn’t leave the apartment. Joe gets home to talk to her, and she says she doesn’t want to go to Washington, D.C., stating all sorts of superficial reasons for not wanting to go, and at the same time starting arguments over his lack of sexual interest in her. He leaves her be and goes out for a walk. She gets back to her hallucination of selecting a vacation to go on with Mr. Lies.

In another part of town, Louis Ironson and Prior Walter sit together after the funeral of Louis’ grandmother Sarah. They argue over the loss of a cat, and then Prior tells Louis that he has been diagnosed with AIDs and he’s having to be seen for it. Louis cannot handle the news and he seriously considers leaving Prior. Even though he loves Prior and has told him that he can handle everything with Prior, he finds himself incapable.

The next day, Joe runs into Louis crying in the bathroom. He asks him how he’s doing and if he wants to talk, and Louis tells him thank you for noticing and insinuates that Joe is gay. Joe is very offended at first, but then they get talking about how Joe voted for Reagan and is Republican, and Louis, very much disliking both Reagan and Republicans, starts teasing him. Meanwhile, Harper is high on valium again, and she hallucinates Prior in her dream; she and he talk about unhappiness, and he suggests to her that her husband is gay. When Joe gets home from the office, she confronts him about it, causing a huge fight.

Roy Cohn is next seen in the doctor’s office, and he has just been diagnosed with AIDS. He insists to his doctor that he has slept with men, but is not gay, and no one can know that he has AIDS because he doesn’t have AIDS and his doctor should call it liver cancer. The doctor tells him that he can call himself and the disease whatever he wants, but it won’t change the fact that he does, in fact, have AIDS.

When Prior gets sick enough to be defecating blood on the floor in the bathroom, Louis calls an ambulance and gets him to the hospital even though Prior is insistent that he can’t go because they’ll never let him out of the hospital again. After he starts to get better but then has another episode, Louis tells the nurse to tell Prior he is sorry, but he just can’t stay. He goes to Central Park and sleeps with a man there to deal with the pain. Prior is very upset but expected it to happen, and he confides in his friend and nurse, Belize, who is a black gay man who regularly performs in drag. She makes sure he stays on the medication he wants, because it makes him hard, and he wants to experience orgasm. When he experiences this, he starts seeing past relatives and then hearing voices, who tell him that he will soon be visited by an angel.

Joe talks to Cohn and tells him that he can’t take the job, and Cohn gets upset because he wants him in Washington so that he can have someone on the inside to influence decisions and potentially court case decisions. Joe is mortified at the statement, but Cohn says that he’s been doing it in the past, and it was the reason that the last person he had executed was executed. Another politician comes in to talk, and Cohn tries to explain to Joe that power is to have people across the political spectrum at your beck and call, just like he has. He tries to tell Joe that he is throwing away his chance at greatness and he should just go to Washington and forget about what his wife wants. Joe refuses and leaves. The politician then tells Cohn that he is under investigation for his misconduct with the woman he took half a million dollars from. Cohn says that it won’t matter, that they can’t get him.

Harper and Joe fight again over Washington. She wants him to leave and she wants to leave him. They both get upset, and Joe leaves. On Sunday, he goes to the office and finds Louis there. They talk about what’s going on with Louis and then, moving past the sexual tension, they both leave. Joe goes and gets drunk and calls his mother, Hannah, in Salt Lake City to say that he and Harper aren’t fine and that he is gay. Hannah refuses to believe him, and she states that he needs to get ahold of himself. Hannah proceeds to sell her home in Utah and move to New York City to be with her son and daughter-in-law. Joe has some sort of ulcer or injury, and he has to go to the hospital.

Louis goes back to Prior to tell him that he is moving out, which infuriates Prior. He goes to talk to Belize about it and says some pretty racist things about the state of relations between black people and Jewish people in America, and it infuriates him so that Belize leaves him to his thoughts and goes back to work at the hospital to work. Prior has been sent back home because he is doing well enough, and while he is trying to sleep at home, he sees an angel come down and destroy the ceiling and speak to him and force him to go get a book of prophecy out of his kitchen floor.

Louis and Joe meet again, and after some conversation, Joe and Louis go home together, and Harper has disappeared into the city in a valium high. She has left the apartment and thinks she is in Antartica with Mr. Lies. She spends days outside in the winter cold without proper clothing, and she cuts down a tree and gets arrested for it. Hannah has just gotten into town, and she is lost in the Bronx when she should be in Brooklyn. She is upset that she has had to navigate her way around town because Joe was supposed to come get her from the airport. When she finally gets to the Pitt apartment and pays to be let in by the building manager, she receives a phone call from the police department letting her know that they are going to take Harper to the hospital to put in the mental ward, because she thinks she was in Antarctica cutting trees down with her teeth. Hannah insists that they leave her alone and she’ll be over to get her.

Prior keeps seeing angels and they keep having sex with him and telling him things that he will prophesy to the people. He goes to a funeral with Belize for a fellow drag queen, and Prior is upset and grumpy. He talks to Belize and tells him about the visions he’s been having and what is going on. Belize tries to get Prior to think that he doesn’t think he’s crazy, but somewhat fails. Prior has also been overdoing it, and is causing his health to decline even though he had been doing well getting rest in his home. Prior talks specifically about how the angel told him that the prophecy is that he should stop progressing. It scares him.

Roy Cohn ends up in the hospital after having had an episode and seeing the woman, Ethel, he had sentenced to death for being communist. Belize is his nurse, and he sees that Cohn actually has AIDS, not liver cancer. Even though he absolutely hates Cohn, he tells him that he shouldn’t let them give him radiation because it would destroy t-cells he can’t afford to lose. Cohn, both homophobic and racist, tells Belize to do his job and get out. Belize continues to talk to Cohn, telling him that the research study he’s been able to get in on for the AIDS drug is double blind, meaning that he may not be able to actually get treated, and he’ll die anyway because he’ll be given a placebo. When Belize leaves, Cohn makes a phone call to get the drug AZT, which is in experimental stages, to his hospital room. He is given a very large amount, enough to last more than his lifetime.

Prior goes to the Mormon Visitors’ Center, and Hannah is working there as a volunteer. She takes him in to see the visitor center show, and Harper is there, eating junk food even though there is no food or drink allowed in the theater. He sits by her and she says that she’s waiting for the woman in the show to talk, since the mannequin never does even though all the men do. She also says that the man in the show looks like her husband. As they watch together, they both have the vision of Louis and Joe together talking and they are talking about Mormonism in Louis’ apartment. Prior leaves, and Harper realizes that she knew the man sitting next to her because he was in one of her hallucinations.

Prior takes Belize to the courthouse and they both get a look at Joe. Prior can’t believe just how good looking and large he is. Belize realizes that he knows Joe from having seen him in Cohn’s hospital room. Joe confronts them, and they find a way to skirt out of the awkward situation. Louis and Joe are together at the beach, and Louis has just told Joe that he wants to go try and repair his relationship with Prior. Joe rips off his temple garments on the beach and yells that Louis will come back to him eventually, and Louis helps him get some clothing back on, but does leave. Prior then confronts Louis, who has come to apologize, and he tells him that he shouldn’t come back until there are literal cuts and bruises on him.

Not knowing where else to go, Joe goes back to Cohn and confides in him that he is gay. Cohn discusses ideas about father figures and disappointments and then goes into a coughing fit and Joe gets sprayed with blood on his shirt. Belize tells him to get out and to throw away the shirt because it will make him sick. Joe has just come to the realization that Cohn has AIDS, and he is upset over the deception. That evening, Cohn and Belize talk about heaven and hell, and Belize constructs the image of a more nature-like San Francisco as heaven. Cohn laughs and slings insults.

When Louis comes and talks to Belize about what has happened between him and Prior, he goes off on Louis and tells him that Joe is good friends with none other than Roy Cohn and that he stands against everything that they are. Louis at first doesn’t believe it, but then goes and pulls court decisions and files, and he realizes that Joe is the one who has written decisions that have affected LGBT rights, specifically the anti-discrimination laws. He again breaks up with Joe over it, and Joe beats Louis.

Joe goes back home to Hannah and his wife and discusses why Hannah came to New York City, and he suggests that he has everything under control and that she should leave. She doesn’t tell him that she sold her house and can’t go back to Salt Lake City. They realize that Harper has once again escaped the house, and they go out to find her. Joe and Hannah split up, and Joe is the first to find Harper, shoeless and running around. He wraps her in his arms and takes her home. Prior is also out in the rain, and he runs into Hannah and starts talking to her. When he gets so sick he needs help, Hannah goes with him to the hospital.

Prior asks Hannah to stay with him at the hospital, and despite her discomfort over his homosexuality, she promises to stay until he’s asleep. They talk and he tells her that he’s a prophet and has seen angels, and Hannah at first thinks he’s crazy, but then talks to him about how their church believes in continuing revelation so he may have actually seen an angel. When he says what should I do if I don’t want to be forced to do what the angel did, and she tells him that like a prophet of old, he should wrestle with it and not let go. Then, later that night, she sees the angel he spoke of, and watches him wrestle with it and win. Then, he climbs a ladder into heaven. She has an orgasm and then doesn’t remember anything more.

When Prior reaches heaven, which looks just as Belize described, he learns that God has left heaven and the angels don’t know why. They are listening to the radio and hearing about Chernobyl, and he tells them that they only see fear and pain and suffering because they don’t understand life or see the larger picture. He gives them their seeing stones and book back and says that Earth doesn’t want the prophecy. He also says that he will not give up and that he wants life no matter how painful it is. They allow him to go back to Earth.

Roy Cohn learns that he is disbarred for his actions just before he dies, and Ethel is the one to tell it to him. She has wanted to be able to forgive him but cannot, and instead has wanted some sort of revenge, and has been able to get it by watching his pain. Belize is with him when he dies. Belize, knowing that the medicine will be taken back since he is dead, opens up the container that holds it and takes many bottles

Joe and Harper have sex one more time, but then she determines she will be leaving him. She gets dressed and leaves him in the apartment. She goes to San Francisco. Louis returns to Prior once more, beaten up and bloodied, and Prior tells him that while he cannot let him move back in, they may be able to see each other. The play ends a year later with Hannah, Prior, Louis, and Belize are sitting at the Bethesda fountain in the park, and Prior is still alive and functioning with the aid of the drug. When Prior starts talking about the history of the Bethesda fountain, Hannah states that when the fountain becomes a living fountain again, she will take Prior to bathe him in it and heal him.

Discussion of Work
This work nearly seamlessly blends Catholic, Mormon, and Jewish belief systems and thoughts to show the complex relationships that LGBT people experience with those religions and religious concepts. The religious-secular tension of the LGBT experience is embodied in Joe, who ultimately stays still and never moves forward because of his inability to fully come to terms with both his religion and his sexuality. The language of the angels in the work is almost Shakespearean when they talk about the great unraveling of heavenly design.

Prior and Cohn are foils of each other: one wants to make sure he’s remembered as heterosexual and powerful, a lawyer of the most memorable kind, but Prior wants to remain living and experiencing the pain and pleasures of life while admitting his true identity. Hannah shows the most character growth, coming to recognize that perhaps her belief system isn’t as whole as she thought it was.

The play also contains information about a historical moment: the AIDS crisis during the Reagan era. Cohn was also a real person who did illegal things, although his character is not a perfect representation of Cohn but rather a different character and person. It does a good job of exploring how LGBT people felt during that time period and the dangers of not just the physical illness, but the societal dangers of being out in the open about non-heteronormative sexuality.

James Baldwin, Go Tell It on the Mountain

Baldwin, James. Go Tell It on the Mountain. 1952. Vintage International, 2013.

Summary of Work
John, the stepson of Gabriel Grimes and son of Elizabeth, is sure he is expected to be a man of God, but he worries he is not yet saved. He knows that there is sin in him and he doesn’t know what to do about it. He goes to church regularly with his family. Elisha, the preacher’s son, comes into town, and he teaches Sunday school. John is having a hard time paying attention because he is focused so much on Elisha. He gets to watch Elisha dance before God and pray and sing, and he wants to be very much like Elisha. Elisha is once reprimanded for spending time with Ella Mae, Harriet Washington’s ward. They are publicly shamed in front of the congregation and made an example of for being together so often unchaperoned and unmarried. After that, Elisha never sees Ella.

John wakes up the next Saturday to realize it’s his fourteenth birthday, and wonders if his family will remember. Sometimes his family has completely forgotten. But he doesn’t make a fuss about it. He goes downstairs for breakfast and his mom and his brother Roy are having a heated discussion about their father Gabriel. Gabriel, a man of god and a former preacher, regularly beats his sons for disobedience. They are not allowed to play outside with other children or go to the movies or do anything that Gabriel Grimes considers unholy. So they spend their days in the house or at school doing work and they go to church as a family on Sundays. They also go on Saturday evenings to the prayer service and they regularly have Bible lessons.

When his mother asks him to do chores, he believes his mother has forgotten about his birthday. He does the chores, and afterwards his mother calls him in the kitchen. She gives him some coins and tells him he can go out and buy what he wants for his birthday, but that he needs to do so before his father comes home. He goes into New York City and determines that he will go see a movie, an activity which has been forbidden him by his father. He feels guilty as he starts watching the film, but as the film goes on he empathizes with the main character. John is tormented because he cannot decide if he wants to follow religion or if he wants to participate in what his father determines are sinful activities. He knows that the people in his school and at other places are good people, even though his father says they are sinners. His father has also told him to never trust a white person.

When he gets out of the movies he sees his sister Sarah running home with a package. He quickly follows and finds that his brother Roy has been sliced open with a knife from his temple to his eye. He had gone to the West side of town and picked a fight with white boys. His father is taking care of his son and is angry that John has been gone so long. John goes to take care of his baby sister. And his Aunt Florence is also there. They argue over what happened and over his wife’s inability to keep his son in the home, and Florence is defending his wife Elizabeth when Gabriel strikes his wife. Roy tells his father never to strike his mom again or he will kill him.

That evening John goes to the Church early to clean it before the Saturday evening prayer service. Elisha also comes along. They wrestle and then clean the Church. Slowly people come in and they start to pray as Elisha plays a sad tune on the piano. As Florence prays, she thinks back on her past: she was a girl born to a former slave, and her mother saw no need to move North. She forced her daughter to stay home instead of go to school so she could learn what her mother saw as the skill set she needed to be a wife, mother, and housekeeper in the South. Florence resented her brother Gabriel’s opportunities to learn and be out and about doing whatever he pleased, and felt disgusted at his philandering and drinking and gaming. His mother always asked him to come to God, but he never would. Then, as Florence’s mother was about to die and her employer had asked her to be his concubine, she decided to buy a ticket to New York and leave everything behind. Her family tries to stop her, but she goes North and gets a job and finally meets a husband, who is a bluesman and who wastes his money on drink and frivolous things. She loves him, but always fights with him. One day he comes home and they have a large fight and he never comes back. She finds out from his mistress years later that he has died in the war in France. She is heartbroken.

As Gabriel watches his sister pray, he prays and thinks back on his life. After his sister left he became a preacher, and he was very successful. He marries Deborah, a woman who had been gang raped by white men in a field as a young girl. She is plain and eight years his senior, but very faithful and a woman of God. She is barren, and one day he meets a young woman named Esther who he is tempted by. While they are at work together, she gets a little drunk and lures him into the house, and he decides to sleep with her. They have sex together for nine days, and then he determines he can no longer be unfaithful and ends the affair. But she gets pregnant. He will not leave his wife and marry her and wants nothing to do with her, so he steals his wife’s savings and gives it to Esther to go to Chicago. She dies in childbirth there, and her family brings her body back and buries it, and take care of the baby, Royal. Royal is the name he was going to give his firstborn son. He watches his son grow up but will not claim him, and he dies in a knife fight in Chicago when he is 18. When he learns this and breaks down, Deborah admits that she knows about the affair and wants to know why he never admitted it and claimed his son. She tells him that he had better repent and keep repenting until he knows for certain God has forgiven him. She dies soon later from her illness. Florence also knows about her brother’s sins because Deborah sent her a letter about it.

Elizabeth was the daughter of a bluesman. Her mother died young, and she was taken away from her father by her Aunt, who believed her father would not raise her right. Elizabeth resented her Aunt for it her whole life and hated the church. While living in the South she met Richard, the store boy, and they fell in love. She follows him to New York City, and they work in the same hotel together. She starts sleeping with him and gets pregnant, but doesn’t tell him. One early morning when they stay out too late, he takes her back to Harlem but then gets caught in a bad situation that lands him in jail. The cops tell her he robbed a store, even though he didn’t and was simply caught in the crosshairs. He will not sign a confession, and he is severely beaten. The cops let her see him, and he stands trial and is found innocent on others’ testimony. He is broken when he gets out of prison and he kills himself, and she never gets to tell him she is pregnant. She still works to take care of herself and the baby, and now she lives in her own space instead of her Aunt’s friend’s home, but she is miserable. She meets Florence, and confides in her about her son and his daddy. She becomes fast friends with Florence, and when Gabriel comes to town, she doesn’t understand why Florence doesn’t like him. Gabriel ends up marrying Florence and promising he will raise the child like his own. She thinks about his promise and that he kept the word but not the spirit. Gabriel hates that John is more righteous than his own son, and cannot stand the thought of John being better than his flesh and blood.

John falls under the power of the Lord and has a vision of going through the gates of hell and being under Satan’s power, and being lifted up by Christ. The congregation is elated that he has been saved. Elisha helped him through the process. The only people who are not so happy are his mother and stepfather. As they walk in the morning light, for they have prayed all night long in the Pentecostal Church, Elisha and John talk about praying and staying on the path to God. Florence and Gabriel talk about Gabriel’s past and Gabriel is furious that Florence knows and that she knows how much he hates John. Elizabeth is crying for her past love and for the lack of love Gabriel has for her son and herself and the sorrow he has brought into her life as the other members of the Church talk about how amazing it is that John has so young discovered the path to God and been saved. As Elisha and John get to John’s home, John wishes to tell him about his father, but only asks for Elisha to always pray for him and be with him. He walks into the house at his father’s bidding before Sunday services later that morning.

Brief Note on Themes
Religion and how it works within people is a large theme in this book. This is particularly true for how certain truths for certain individuals lead them in specific paths and often lead to their downfall as they think their way is the only right way. What does it mean to be saved? How can a person come to be saved through Christ? And can a person stay saved, or are they destined to continually fail and fall into sin?

There is also a theme of finding identity and what it means to be religious and American and living in the North versus the South as a black person. Black identity is also overtly discussed, as each of these people come to learn what it means to be black in America and to in one way or another fear and resent white people and their power.

The power of the word of God through the Bible and through prophecy are always present in the work. There is a big tension between being part of the world and being part of religion. This is always in some way or other expressed using the blues and bluesmen and the jook joint spaces they are played in as a secular representation, and the church and the Bible and God as contrast. That tension is a long and well established running theme in black history, and many preachers were at some point bluesmen before they turned to God. Others were originally preachers who turned to blues. So there is a lot to explore in the ways the “world” is represented in comparison to religion. It’s also interesting that dance is associated with the Bible and God, and there does seem to be a sense of possession, much like the mounting of the Vodun, in black Christian worship in the book. When blues is mentioned, any activities surrounding it are always linked to sex. This continues to show that the music and dances, both done secularly and religiously, have the same call and response ties, the same roots.

Family relationships and sexual relationships and dalliances, are also very common in this work, and love as real and love as convenience are explored. Gabriel loves for duty or convenience: he marries those he thinks will bring him closer to God because he is called to lift them up. Elizabeth comes the closest to finding true love with Richard because no matter what they stick together until he commits suicide. Florence falls into the trap of loving someone to have someone around, and though she does love her husband, she cannot truly forget his faults.

John Dos Passos, The 42nd Parallel

Dos Passos, John. The 42nd Parallel. Houghton Mifflin Co, 2000.

Summary of Work
This novel follows six characters through their lives in the first two decades of the twentieth century, ending just as World War I breaks out. The novel is structured with these different narratives stopping, starting, and intertwining with other characters’ narratives, even if they do not come in direct contact with one another. The novel is also broken up by newsreels, which are headlines and bits of news stories pulled from the Chicago Tribune during those years. The other section type is camera eye, which are autobiographical shots of Dos Passos’ life. The newsreels and camera eye sections do not follow any particular chronological order, and the stories of the lives of the characters also do not follow strict chronological time. Because of this, I am structuring this summary entry around the six characters rather than trying to chronologically summarize.

Mac, also known as Fainy McCreary, is from an immigrant family and is trained to work a printing press. He is a wanderer who won’t stick with one job for long, particularly because he is attracted to the ideologies of the Industrial Workers of the World and their leader, Big Bill Haywood. When he is in California and meets a woman and marries her, he settles down for a time and has two kids, but he feels like he is suffocating under the weight of poverty, work, and family responsibilities. When he hears about opportunities to help with the revolution in Mexico, he abandons his family and moves to Mexico to help where he can.

Janey Williams is from a poor working class family, and though she does well in school, she struggles in the working world as a secretary. She keeps trying to date different men to find love and finding that she dates rather terrible men. The firm that she finally gets a decent job at is pro-German, and although the pay is good, she cannot stand their anti-American statements and beliefs, so she quits the firm. Looking for work, she heads to New York City, and with some help she slips into what is first a temporary job to be a stenographer to J. Ward Moorehouse, and she does such a good job that she becomes his secretary. She takes trips with him all over the country, even down to Mexico.

Joe Williams, Janey’s brother, is a dropout and a fighter. He wanders from place to place intent on going to see new things around the world. He joins the Navy hoping to accomplish this goal further, and he sends Janey occasional letters and gifts from his travels. The Navy doesn’t work out so well for Joe, however, and he goes AWOL and goes back to his fighting, drifting ways.

J. Ward Moorehouse ties nearly all the characters in the story together in some way or another, even if it is just the other characters being in the same area. He is from a middle class family and well educated, but he aspires to be much more than a middle class working man. A writer, while he is working he meets and marries into a wealthy American family (the girl is pregnant), but upon his honeymoon trip to Paris, he realizes that she wants nothing to do with regular family life. She gets an abortion, and he quickly separates from her. He does make some contacts in Paris, and when he returns to the US, he begins a journalism career in Pittsburgh. From there, he marries again and starts his own public relations business with capital from his wife’s family.

Eleanor Stoddard is from Georgetown and part of a successful upper middle class family. She has artistic talent, particularly as an interior designer. She and her friend Eveline Hutchins, who have lived and worked together, quit their jobs and start up a decorator business of their own. They have the opportunity to do a costuming and design job for a play in New York, and eventually Eleanor decides to move there. She starts up her business there again, and J. Ward Moorehouse becomes one of her biggest clients. She also starts to become very close friends with Moorehouse, which even though a non-sexual relationship, angers Mrs. Moorehouse.

The final character introduced is Charley Anderson. He is a boy in Minnesota who ends up in Minneapolis as a mechanic. He falls in love with a girl about his age, and he has dreams of settling down to domestic life with her. However, when his best friend gets her pregnant, he is disenchanted with his dreams of domesticity and decides to leave and wander the nation to find something new to want. He gets stranded down in New Orleans and is lucky to not be beaten or killed from his terrible instrument playing, and he meets Doc William H Rogers, who buys the instrument off of him. They end up going to New York together on a ship and enlist in the ambulance corps for World War I. They are heading out to the front when the novel ends.

Brief Note on Themes
This work is unique in the way it deals with chronology and period representation through a mix of historical record and fiction. The book, as part of the USA Trilogy, is meant to give a picture or representation of the US during the early part of the twentieth century. The work itself deals heavily with attitudes about economics and racism during the time period, with racist sentiments abounding about Asians, African Americans, and Mexicans as well as immigrants. The narrative contains a lot of travel within it, ranging from the East Coast to the South to the Midwest to California and the West, all the way back down to Mexico. The idea of the American Dream seems embodied in the character of J. Ward Moorehouse.

Questions

  1. From Fainian making disastrous decisions time and time again to join in the communist movement and leave decent-paying jobs to Moorhouse’s consistent attempts to succeed through capitalism which leave him in debt or full of worry over risk, John Dos Passos’s work holds a healthy skepticism for both economic situations and economic “solutions.” Is there any indication in his work that he has a way out of the vicious cycle of economic ruin he illustrates throughout the novel?
  2. How does text placement and stylization affect the way we read the newsreel portions of this text? For example:

    TITANIC LARGEST SHIP IN THE WORLD SINKING
    Personally I am not sure that the twelvehour day is bad for employees
    especially when they insist on working that long in order to make more
    money

    Still all my song shall be
    Nearer My God to thee
    Nearer to thee
    (118)

    Those who know that the band on the Titanic played the song “Nearer My God to Thee” as the ship sunk can pull the importance of the connection to the music there, both for time period and beliefs. The text in between headline and song is almost like text from a different article out of the newspaper on the same day or the same year. When looked at in this way, is sound being captured in the sense that we’re getting the “noise” from the time period?

C.D. Wright, One Big Self

Wright, C.D. One Big Self. Copper Canyon P., 2007.

Summary of Work
C.D. Wright’s “One Big Self” explores the lives of people in three different prisons in Louisiana. Wright suggests that when we look at all the prisons in America—and the prison population, which is the largest in the world—we are looking in a mirror at America’s values and legacy. What makes up the prison population outside of the numbers and the listed crime or law broken? Invited by her colleague and friend to go to learn about the inmates while her friend is taking pictures of the prison inmates for a larger project, Wright sets out to learn about the inmates and their lives, both before prison, during their crimes and trials, and life in prison. She also contemplates what prisons do to the environments and communities they inhabit. She shows that these inmates are more than just numbers, they are people who have dealt with many difficult circumstances: poverty, difficult family situations, poor education and no job opportunities available, relationship woes, and more.

One of the main things I noticed highlighted was the difference in experience for men and women in prison. There was a large focus on women in context of their children, children they have before they go to prison, children they have while in prison, and what happens to their relationships with their children; there is even a poem describing the process of getting ready for an Easter party with the children in the main area of the prison. With the men, the focus is much more on their experiences in prison or getting to prison rather than on families. When children are mentioned, it is in context of the ages that they meet and where the children end up, usually in prison like their fathers.

 

Brief Note on Themes
The overarching theme of the work is incarceration; how does the American prison system function? Who are the people in the system? Since the makeup of the majority of the population is black males and black people overall, what does that say about who we incarcerate or crime? How does the prison system affect the communities in which they are built? How does it save or ruin city economies? What are the reasons people invest in such systems, especially private prison systems, and how does having prison on the stock market change the system as people view it, use it, and strive for its expansion and continuation? Wright’s work largely reflects upon what it means to look at people solely for their crimes when they are much more than that, and what that says about the American justice and incarceration system.

 

Brief Note on Poetic Structure
Written in a free form, the work is a mix of what would seem like prose, followed by poetry that utilizes caesura, line breaks, and plenty of white space to cue readers to changes in scene, narrator, situation, and discussion. The structure takes a minimalist attitude, where the situations are given in pieces rather than as one continuous narrative. The breaks in narrative and the mix of prisoners names, only ever briefly mentioned, give a sense of “everyman” for the prisoners, rendering both their invisibility and individuality clear to the reader. Certain phrases or poetic repetitive structures, such as the “Count the . . .” poems which are brought back within other poems, work to remind readers of the controlling situation in which the prisoners live.