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.

Langston Hughes, The Big Sea

Hughes, Langston. The Big Sea. 1940. U of Missouri P, 2001.

Summary of Work
This autobiography of Langston Hughes’s life details some of his life experiences from his early twenties into the end of his twenties and the beginning of the Great Depression. When he was a child, his parents split, and he lived with his mother for a time. He remembers having his parents try to get back together in Mexico, but that was the year of the great earthquake in Mexico City, and so his mother got scared and they went back. He was sent to live with his grandmother in Kansas and to go to school, and she was a proud woman who would never do service jobs for white people to earn a living. When she died when he was just before his teenage years, he went to go live with his Aunt. During this time his Aunt took him to a Christian church, where they were praying over people to be saved. Everyone had gone up but him, because he believed he would get to see Jesus in the flesh, and he did not want to be dishonest about coming to Jesus. Finally, filled with guilt that he is the only one who hasn’t been saved, he comes to the front at the alter, and his Aunt is overjoyed. That night, he cries over having lied. His mother remarried, and he liked the man. Hughes was elected the poet for his school (it was integrated) because people made assumptions that all black people had rhythm and could dance, so they must be able to write poetry. He wrote his first poems there. He admits that his entire life, he rarely majorly edited poetry once it was down on the page. He also admits that most of his poetry and other work was written when he was miserable or unhappy rather than when he was happy.

In his late teenage years, his biological father wrote to him that he wanted him to come down to Mexico. His mother was upset about it, but he went anyway. There, he found out that his father was considered very American because all he cared about was money, but he was wiser than other Americans that came to Mexico because he was interested in keeping and saving his money. He hated Mexicans and many black people, and all poor people. Hughes was fairly miserable his first year there, because his father was always trying to force him to hurry places, and because he had to do bookkeeping and was no good with numbers. He got so angry at his father that it made him physically ill and he couldn’t eat for weeks, which landed him in a hospital that cost his father $20 a day to keep him there. After he was feeling better, his father sent him back to the US.  But the next time he went down to stay with his father, he spent more time to learn Spanish and became better friends with the Mexicans in town. A German woman also stayed with them (she later became his father’s wife), and she made the space more pleasant. His father expressed that he wanted to send him to college somewhere in Europe and have him come back to Mexico to be an engineer, but Hughes said he wanted to be a writer and did not want to go learn things he was no good at. His father told him that writers made no money and that if he was going to pay for college, Hughes would go where he wanted him to. He would also not be allowed to leave Mexico until he agreed to his father’s wishes.

So in order to escape, Hughes started tutoring Mexican children so they could speak English. Word spread that he was good at his job, and soon he was able to raise his rates and take on as much work as he wanted. He also got offered two jobs at colleges to teach English, and he took both jobs because scheduling worked for him. While working these jobs, he is lucky to narrowly escape death because a man who the German woman’s relation was working for thought that the German girl was sleeping with Hughes, and he, enraged, came to the house, shot the girl in the head three times, and went in search of Hughes to kill him, but couldn’t find him because he wasn’t home. The girl miraculously survived, and the man was sentenced to twenty years in prison.

Hughes had made quite a bit of money, and he started thinking that he did want to go to college, but in NYC at Columbia. He and his father fought about it, but eventually his father agreed to send him there. On the train to New York City, he was mistaken as Mexican and when he said he was black, white people in the South would not serve him. He remembered the struggles of living as a black man in the US, and contemplated why it was so difficult for white people to interact with black people in the US when it was so easy for them to do so in other countries. He spent a year at Columbia, only to find he really disliked college, and so he quit and started looking for a job. But his father at that point had cut him off, his mother was looking for work and struggling, and he could not find a job that would take him, even if it were available, because he was a black man. He finally found a job working at a shipyard, and in the meantime he was having some of his poetry published by Crisis magazine. Alain Locke wanted to meet him and he had met several major figures of the New Negro movement, but he told Locke no because he was nervous and because he knew that Locke wouldn’t be able to get his way around the docks very easily and it could kill him if he weren’t careful. Before Hughes sets off to sea on his first voyage, he tosses all his books from college into the ocean, ridding himself of their weight both literally and figuratively.

Hughes set sail to Africa eventually and landed in many ports to find that the Africans did not consider him a black man because his skin was more brown than black. This astonished him, and he also saw the terrible effects of colonialization. He recalls having to watch a prostitute and a young girl coming on board in hopes of receiving money, and receiving no money but being forced to have sex with all the men on board who were interested, which was a group of about 30 men. He tired of this type of exploitation as well as the economic exploitation. As they were about to leave, he bought a red monkey, and many of the other soldiers did as well. There were adventures on the ship with those monkeys getting loose and winding up drowned or in missionaries’ beds or in the masts, but eventually all were caught. There were also many more antics and debauchery, and all the men were fired upon returning to the US. Hughes made his way to Cleveland, where his family was staying, and found himself penniless in order to make it there with the monkey, named Jocko, who he had bought for his younger brother. His mother was very upset to have it in the home, but his stepfather and brother liked it, so the monkey stayed. Then his stepfather’s mother came to town, and his mother had an ally to protest about the monkey. Then when his stepfather had the monkey out on the town one night and it got scared and destroyed the carpeting of a pool table, it cost them 25 dollars to have it replaced, and his mother was furious. Not long after Hughes left to go back to sea, she sold the monkey.

His second voyage, he got off to stay in Paris, but found himself unable to get a job because he was not a musician, dancer, or performer. He makes friends with a Russian dancer who got sick and whose company had dissolved, and who had no money. They share a cheap room, and she finds a job before he does. He finally gets a job as a doorman and then, through someone who liked his poetry, found a job as a dishwasher and then a cook. When the club he is working at goes nearly bust, they tried to fire the head cook, and he brought out a knife and threatened everyone, and they let him stay. And when they tried to fire Hughes, he threatened them again, so he got a job as a waiter. During his time there, he saw many fights and other antics. The Russian lady got a job at La Havre, and she leaves him, very sad. He then falls in love with a girl named Mary, who is very well-to-do. But when her father finds out what she’s been doing, first she is very chaperoned, and then she is forced to leave. Soon after that, he spends some time with Alain Locke, who is in town, and then when one day he is waiting on a famous poet, he shares his work. The poet “discovers” Hughes, and then he became wildly popular and many people came to the club looking to get a photo with the poet. He has more poems published but is never paid for them.

When the club had to close down for refurbishment and because of lack of business, he goes with some Italians to see Italy. He has enough money to enjoy his time, and Locke is also there and takes him to Venice and they enjoy their time. However, while in Genoa, he has his passport and all his money stolen, and the US embassy and consulate refuse to help him, so he lives homeless and in poverty, unable to get a job that will pay him enough to either get back to France or to find safe passage to America. He finally gets passage as a workman on a ship bound for NYC, and he is nearly kicked off in Spain for being late back to the ship, but he makes it back to the US with a quarter more than he had in France when he first landed. He makes his way to Washington, where his relatives are, and they want him to work in the Library of Congress, but it has too many needed qualifications and Hughes needed work, so he started working doing wet wash laundry for twelve dollars a week. His mother and the relatives had a dispute, and so he found them different accommodations, and they struggled to make ends meet. Carl Van Vechten contacted him and helped him publish a book of poetry at this point, but the elitist community would not welcome him or his mother because they were poor.

He makes his way back to Harlem in hopes of going to college, but he can’t get a scholarship. He talks of meeting Van Vechten and Jean Toomer, who could pass as white and refused to be labeled a “Negro Artist” much to critics’ dismay. He also met Zora Neale Hurston, who he had a good relationship for years until a dispute over a co-writing project. He speaks of Vechten and his parties, the decadence of the Harlem Renaissance and how the area was a victim of its own image. Hughes finally makes a bit of money off of some poetry, works as a personal assistant for a time, gets patronage to go to college at Lincoln, and visits and explores the South and takes a short voyage to Cuba and Jamaica, which he liked very much and would have kept doing if he hadn’t had to go back to college. During his final college years, he wrote a survey of the issues of the color line at Lincoln college, where all white professors taught a nearly all black student body. The founder of the college came up to him at graduation to tell him that as time passed, he would see that there was no way for him to do what he did in founding the school unless he could have had white patronage and made concessions. Hughes disagreed with him.

Around this time, he also received patronage to write and finish his novel Not Without Laughter, which he wishes would have been better because it is about the best of his family members. He receives a major literary award for it. He tries to write other things, but the white patron dislikes his work, and finally they part ways, and it makes him sick like he was with his father. He remembers all the decadence and security he experienced and remembers seeing the other people in the street starving because of the depression, and he remembers the disgust the white chauffeur had over being forced to drive a black man places. He went to the doctor to see what was wrong and spent a lot of money doing it, was told first he had a Japanese tape worm, and then told by a white doctor that he had no such thing. Then he got tonsillitis and had to have them out, using up the last of his money from the Park Street patron. After that, he immediately got better from his illness brought on by anger over the patron. It is during this time that he had his dispute with Hurston over the play they had been working on, and while it had been in production, it had to be shut down over the dispute. After that he went to Haiti and decided that he would make money writing for a living, and at the time of writing the autobiography, that is what he had done successfully.

Discussion of Work
This book gives an adventurous story about Langston Hughes’s life during his twenties. Its major dealings in terms of themes that cut across works of African American writing are the color line, economic oppression and poverty, travel narratives, and artistry, particularly writing and music. Hughes regularly comments on the struggles of being a black man, particularly when it comes to finding housing or a job. While he knows that other races are discriminated against, he knows they also have an easier time finding work, which makes all the difference. And he struggles with the knowledge that many of the black elite are not interested in changing the situation because they feel that there can be no progress unless they tell the white people what they want to hear. He states that while the Harlem Renaissance was happening, the majority of the black communities in America felt nothing change in their situation or economic or social standings. Economics and travel go hand-in-hand for Hughes, who travels in order to get money, which he can never keep as he comes back to the US, or even as he simply travels from one country to another. Job opportunities do not change, and while he doesn’t experience the same type of color prejudice, he does experience it in that the natives of the countries he visits dislike him for being a threat to their jobs.

Artistry is the other large portion of this narrative. He shows several of his poems and discusses when he wrote them and why. Much of his work was strongly influenced by blues songs and structures, which can be seen throughout much of his poetry with the AAB writing format, just as many blues lyrics are written. He also talks about how dance and music were a rich part of many black people’s lives, specifically citing the many rent parties and house parties he went to, some of which were certainly to help pay people’s rent, but others which were just hosted to be hosted. He provides several examples of printed up tickets for these events. He states that these parties were the spaces where he liked to be because black artistry was not put on display for racist white audiences. His understanding of what it is to be a black man or a black person in general is changed and given more value in an all-black space.

However, he also discusses the problems that come with the assumptions that all black people have rhythm and can dance and sing: he could not dance or sing, and those were almost the only jobs available to him in Europe and even in the US. The stereotype led to success for some, but not for long for many: once they were injured or could no longer work or could not work the grueling schedules or create enough new material, they often died in poverty. It ultimately narrowed black people’s options and avenues for success, even as it provided a rich culture and outlet for many. In discussion of his own work, he also talks about how a narrow view of what black artists should create doomed his work Fine Clothes to the Jew because critics and general public readers alike felt that the dialect and blues structures should not be used in his art: white people saw enough of that elsewhere, and writing was supposed to highlight the best to show people that black artists were capable of high art. The strict rules placed upon what a black artist could write or create further limited what people read, and who could be successful in the field of art.

Lorraine Hansberry, A Raisin in the Sun

Hansberry, Lorraine. A Raisin in the Sun. Vintage Books, 1995.

Summary of Work
Ruth and Walter Younger, their son Travis, and Walter’s sister Beneatha and mother Lena all live together in a small, two bedroom apartment on the South side of Chicago. Walter’s father has died, and after months of waiting, they are expecting an insurance check for ten thousand dollars. It is all Walter can think about, and over breakfast, Ruth tries to keep order as Beneatha and Walter fight about what will be done with the money. Ruth is acting strange, and she is particularly hard on Travis when he asks for money he needs for school, and harder on him when he asks to be able to deliver groceries after school in order to make the money himself. Walter gives his son $1 and sends him on his way, much to Ruth’s dismay. Walter wants to go into business with his friends to buy a liquor store, and he is upset that Ruth is always so worried about money but won’t let him do anything to change their situation. He is insistent that his mother will give him the insurance money to go into business. He leaves for work, Beneatha leaves for school (she is in college and wanting to become a doctor), and when Lena comes out, she starts fussing over Ruth and then talking about how she doesn’t know her children anymore. Ruth collapses.

She goes to the doctor and learns she is pregnant, and she is devastated. However, the next day, the check comes, and everyone starts out happy. Lena tells Ruth that she’s thinking about putting some money away for Beneatha so that she can go to school, and then trying to decide what to do with the rest. She thinks she might buy a house. Walter is angry that she won’t invest in the liquor store scheme, and he goes to leave, but Lena makes him stay, trying to get him to listen to Ruth’s important announcement. He just yells at Ruth, and she goes in her room. Lena tells him that Ruth is pregnant, and Ruth comes out to talk about it. She talks to her family about her trip to the doctor, and lets slip the wrong pronoun, indicating to Lena that Ruth actually went to see the woman who would help her get an abortion. Ruth confirms this, stating that with how Walter is acting and the financial state they are in, it doesn’t make sense to bring a child into the world. Lena, feeling like her world is falling apart, leaves the house with the check that has come in the mail.

When Lena returns, she’s bought a house, but in the white area of town rather than the black area. The family doesn’t know what to say, worried about what will happen. Beneatha, meanwhile, has been going out with different men. One, George, is the son of one of the richest men in town, and the family would like to see her keep dating him and potentially marry him. But Beneatha likes Asagai, the Nigerian who is in Chicago going to college to learn about democracy so he can bring revolution to his country. He brings her a beautiful Nigerian set of clothing, and she puts it on, and he comments that her hair isn’t natural, and that’s sad. She goes to the hairstylist and has it cut off. When she returns, all dressed up, she starts dancing how she imagines a Nigerian woman would dance, and Walter walks in and sees her. He is drunk, and starts wildly dancing as he imagines an African warrior would dance. It is this scene that Ruth and George walk in on, and George is flabbergasted at her dress and her hair. She comments that it’s natural, but she goes to change clothing for their date. Walter, still drunk, sits down, sullen. He makes crude comments about George and about how he dresses, and then they leave. Walter continues his bad attitude to Ruth, but they get talking, and he starts making up with her.

Lena, meanwhile, sees how sullen her son is, and she decides to give him the remainder of the money, the 6500 dollars, to invest as he sees fit, as long as he puts 3500 of it in a bank account for Beneatha. He is ecstatic, and becomes a completely different man. He even takes his wife to the movies and dances the Slow Drag with her. The kids get their mother a set of gardening tools to work with, since she now has the space to garden that she always wanted. They all get ready to leave by helping pack, when a man comes to the apartment to tell them that the white community doesn’t want them there, and they are willing to pay them more than they paid for the house to sell. The children are upset, and they tell him no and to leave. A neighbor also comes over with a newspaper to scare them by showing them the headlines of black people’s homes getting burned when they move into white neighborhoods. Not long after that, Walter’s friend comes around and tells him that their other friend and business partner has run off with all the money. They are broke. Walter is dumbstruck, especially because he didn’t follow his mother’s direction and invested the whole of the 6500 dollars rather than set aside the 3500 for Beneatha.

Everyone is upset and angry at Walter for his poor judgment. They start talking about needing to stay in the apartment now, because they cannot afford the mortgage without that extra money. Walter calls the man from the Homeowners Association in order to accept the offer for the house. Lena is sad and tells him that he ought to be ashamed of himself, and that his father wouldn’t recognize the man he’d become, because he wasn’t a man. And Walter won’t listen. Instead, he puts on a parody of what he’ll say when the man comes, choking himself up with the words as he says it. When the man actually comes, he realizes that he cannot do it, and he regains his dignity and tells the man that they are going to keep the home and that the white community will have to deal with them moving in.

Lena and Ruth talk about how they just watched Walter learn what being a real man is as they get ready to take the moving boxes down and direct the movers on how to carry the furniture. Beneatha talks about how Asagai has proposed to her and that she is thinking of accepting so she can move to Nigeria with him and be a queen, and both Lena and Walter talk to her about how she is too young to be getting married and that she should stay here and marry someone rich, like George. She is upset and still talking about it when she leaves the apartment. Lena is the last one to leave the apartment, happy and yet nostalgic about her husband. She grabs her plant, which has struggled to survive in the apartment environment, and turns the light off on the space.

Discussion of Work
This play explores themes of poverty and discrimination in Chicago: the abysmal conditions of the kitchenettes that black families are forced to live in and pay ridiculous rent for; few economic opportunities; discrimination from the economically wealthy black elite; racism from even poor whites in similar economic situations; and pipe dreams such as the “Back to Africa” movement and better economic situation through education.

The play also explores the meaning of gender roles and expectations within black families. Ruth is as much a breadwinner as she is a housekeeper, and her decisions are what goes for the whole family, often making her husband feel like less of a man when it comes to financial decisions and decisions regarding his own life choices. And yet what Walter comes to understand about his role is that it is owning up to mistakes, standing up and supporting his family both emotionally (when they learn they will be having another child) and physically (when he must stand up to the white HOA representative and when he tries, and fails, to stand up for and do what’s right by his mother’s trust and insurance money). Children’s roles are a main focus of the play, both with Ruth and Walter’s little boy and with Walter and Beneatha as Lena’s children. There is a level of obedience and respect that is expected, and when not shown, it in effect collapses the family unit because the people with the life experience and wisdom are not heeded (Beneatha disregarding marriage advice and basic life advice; Walter disregarding financial advice and friend advice; Ruth disregarding childbearing advice).

For the purposes of my dissertation, dancing features in this play in two separate instances: when Beneatha puts on the Nigerian robes, and when Walter and Ruth slow drag in the living room. The first instance highlights a particularly problematic obsession with Africa and the need to hearken back to African roots. African Americans, while certainly their culture does have African roots, is not African. And the imitation African movements come off as not only false, but disrespectful and comical. Just as Beneatha does not fit within the Nigerian culture that Asagai would have her assimilate to, African Americans cannot magically regain “Africanness” by dressing in native garb and attempting African dance ritual. The second instance highlights what happens when Walter becomes happy about his life prospects again and takes Ruth to the movies and then comes back home with her, still elated about his financial gain. A blues song is playing in the background, and they dance in the living room, much to Beneatha’s chagrin. Still hooked on the idea of going back to Africa, she cannot fully accept or appreciate her own culture, which Walter and Ruth have embraced both in music and physical movement. The space demonstrates that these dances are done in multiple spaces and for multiple reasons, whether they be to release sad or happy emotions, to engage in romantic entreaties, to engage in social convention, or other reasons altogether. The acceptance of the space, dance, and moment create a level of happiness and authentic cultural experience that the African dance scene lacks in its farcical display.

Richard Wright, Native Son

Wright, Richard. Native Son. Harper & Brothers, 1940.

Summary of Work
Bigger Thomas wakes up in the one bedroom, small kitchenette flat that he and his family of four share. There is a rat, and his mother has him and his brother attempt to kill it. In killing the rat with a cast iron pan, Bigger breaks a box. He then scares his sister Vera to fainting as he approaches her with the dead rat. His mother gets after him, and continues to tell him that he is good for nothing and ask him why he won’t work rather than cause trouble. She reiterates that she has him a job opportunity from the relief center, and that they are living on the grace of others and God because they have so little money. He sits and eats as she says this, and then asks for money. She gives him twenty five cents, and he heads out.

He knows his interview isn’t until the evening, and he has time. He wants to do something, but doesn’t have the money. So he goes to the pool house and waits for his crew to arrive: GH, Jack, and Gus. They start planning to rob a white man’s deli down the street at 3 PM because the cops aren’t around and no one will yet be shopping. Bigger says that with a couple of guns they could do it in three minutes flat. They, after some argument from Gus, decide to go through with the plan. In the meantime, they go to the movies and masturbate while watching a group of young heiresses frolick on the beach in Florida. He sees Mary Dalton on the screen, and tells the other men that it is the Dalton family who might give him the job this evening.

Bigger is getting more and more nervous about robbing the white man’s store. What if they get caught? He also has a chance for a job, and what would the robbery do to those chances? He decides he has to go through with it because the other boys are going to. He goes and gets his gun and goes back to the pool hall. Gus is later than everyone else, and Bigger uses that as an excuse to start a fight. He has a knife at Gus’s throat and makes him do humiliating things. When the pool house owner, Doc, tells him that’s enough and to stop, he damages the pool tables with his knife, and Doc pulls his gun out and tells Bigger to leave and never come back.

He leaves, goes home, and then nearly immediately has to leave for the interview and doesn’t have time to eat. His mother gives him a little money to buy dinner on the way. He goes directly to the Dalton home and rings the bell on the front door because he cannot find a way to the back entrance. He is let in and led into Mr. Dalton’s study. After an interview where Bigger feels very uncomfortable, he is hired to be the Dalton family chauffer. Mary Dalton walks in just after that and starts asking him questions like if he is part of a Union, and it makes Bigger dislike her immediately because he doesn’t know how to answer the questions and doesn’t want to because he is afraid of associating with white women for fear of being lynched or murdered or put in jail for it.

Mr. Dalton tells Bigger to go out to Peggy, who will show him where he will be sleeping. He is told that he will have $25 a week, five of which will be for spending money for him each week. He is also told that he needs to drive Miss Dalton to the college that evening. He sees his room, gets food in the kitchen, and Peggy also tells him that he is to tend to the furnace while he works there. Then goes back home quickly to collect his things. When he returns, he overhears discussion when he sits in his closet. He pretends to be putting away his clothing when he is doing this so if he is caught it won’t look unnatural for him to be in the closet.

He then goes down for a drink of water and Mrs. Dalton, who is blind, is in the kitchen. She talks to him about their previous chauffer and how he got an education and now has a good government job. She asks him if he would like an education and he says no, that he doesn’t have time or opportunity. She says if they were to afford him the opportunity, would he go, and he replies no. She tells him they will talk about it later, and that it is time to get Mary to college. He goes and gets the car out, a Buick, and she comes out the front. About halfway to the college she tells him to go someplace else, and they go to the Communist headquarters and she brings out a man, Jan Erlohn. He forces Bigger to shake hands with him, and then Mary says that they are all going to get in the front seat, Jan is to drive, and that they’d like to eat where black people eat.

Bigger tells them about a fried chicken place on the South side, and when they get there, he is astounded that they won’t eat there without him despite his saying that he is not hungry and would rather wait with the car. Feeling forced, he gets out, and his step away from Mary makes her cry, and Jan comforts her. They eat, and everyone is staring at Bigger. His girlfriend Bessie comes over and he won’t speak with her for fear of the white people being with him. She is offended and leaves. Jan orders beer and then a bottle of rum, and they take the bottle with them when they leave. Jan and Mary get in the back seat of the car and tell him to go drive around the park. They get drunk in the back seat, occasionally letting Bigger have a swig of liquor. He drives for two hours while they are kissing and spooning in the back seat, and they drop Jan off just about 2 AM. Jan lets Mary take one more very large drink, enough to make her very drunk.

When Bigger drives her back, she is again in the front seat, she cannot walk on her own and keeps falling unconscious. He takes her around the back, her purse left in the car, the door ajar. He carries her up the stairs, hoping that no one will notice. When he puts her in her room, he looks at her, and kisses her and grabs her breasts. But as he is doing this as she is in bed, Mrs. Dalton walks in the room. He freezes. She is calling out to her daughter, and in fear of her saying anything to indicate that he is in the room, he puts his hand over her mouth. When she keeps calling and Mary keeps trying to answer and take his hand off of her mouth, he puts the pillow over her and keeps an iron hand down on it. She struggles, and then the struggle stops so he lets go and backs away as Mrs. Dalton gets close to the bed. Mrs. Dalton just expects that her daughter has passed out from the drink, so she leaves the room.

When Bigger takes the pillow off of her face and looks at her, he realizes he has killed her. He is panicked and doesn’t know what to do. It was an accident, but he knows no one will believe it and that people will say he raped her. He also knows that Mary is supposed to go to Detroit in the morning, so he decides to try and stuff her in her trunk. She fits, and he carries her down the stairs in it to the basement. And when he passes the furnace he has the thought that he can dispose of her body in the furnace. So he takes her out of the trunk and pushes her in, but her head won’t fit in. He spreads newspapers under her body and cuts her head with his knife. But the knife won’t cut the bone, so he takes a hatchet and cuts off her head with that, blood falling all over the newspapers. He then puts her head and all the newspapers into the furnace and covers the body with coal, hoping it will burn. He closes the trunk and leaves, deciding to take Mary’s purse with him as he does so and leave the car out.

As he goes home, he decides that he will frame Jan for the murder when it comes to light, but hopes that it will not come to light for some time because she is supposed to be traveling. He looks through her purse and finds a roll of bills, which he takes, and he disposes of the purse. He also disposes of his knife. When he wakes up at his home in the morning, his mother asks him why he got in at nearly 3 AM. He claims that he got in around 2 so insistently that she gives up. His little brother also insists that he got in late. He eats breakfast with them quickly but says he has to go back to his job. As he runs out of the house, his brother follows him, holding the rolled bills in his hand and asking if he is in any trouble. He tells his brother no and hands him a bill as payment for his silence about having the money.

Then he goes to a local eatery and buys himself a pack of cigarettes with the money, and as his friends Jack, GH, and Gus come in, he buys each of them a pack of cigarettes as well. For the first time ever, Bigger is feeling powerful and free because he knows things others do not and he is making his own course. He goes back to the Daltons’ home and takes the trunk to the station. As he gets back and sits and waits for the never coming Miss Dalton, Peggy asks if she is out to be taken yet, and when he says no, she gets worried because Miss Dalton is also not in the home. Peggy has known Miss Dalton since Miss Dalton was two years old, and has nothing but love for the family who gave her, an Irish immigrant, a good job to last her life.

When Bigger goes back in the home, he goes to his room after eating and then listens in as Mrs. Dalton and Peggy talk about Mary being gone. They think it is one of her tricks. But more and more, especially when the trunk comes back, they genuinely worry about her being missing. Mr. Dalton calls a private investigator, Briton, and he questions Bigger about the missing girl. He talks about the evening previous, and says that Jan came home with them that evening and went upstairs with Mary. He says Jan told him to take the trunk down and he left her with him, and that Jan also told him to leave the car out and that he’d take care of it, which is why it had sat outside all night in the snow. After, he goes to his girlfriend’s house, and after he sleeps with her, he gets an idea that he can, like a previous case, make a kidnapping note and get a ransom and then leave town. He brings Bessie in on the plan, telling her she will be the one to pick up the money.

In the meantime, the police question Jan, who is incredulous and thinks that because he is a communist and loves his daughter, Mr. Dalton is out to get him. He confronts Bigger about it, thinking that they have paid him and forced him to lie, and Bigger pulls a gun on him and tells him to stay way. He then gets paper and pen and writes a ransom note and signs it Red, knowing they will think communism and more suspicion will be on Jan. He slips the note in the front door as he is walking toward the back door of the house. All the while, Bigger is worried about the furnace. Peggy has told him that it needs cleaning, and he know that there is a good chance the bones have not burned in it. By evening, the press has got wind of the story, and everyone is soon there asking questions about the missing girl and about how Mr. Dalton feels about the communist boy he’s had locked up.

Mr. Dalton has by this time received the ransom letter, and decides to make a statement to the press that he intends to pay the ransom and that he would like them to publish that the police are not to interfere because he wants his daughter back. Bigger is somewhat excited, but also worried because he is thinking about the bones in the furnace. The furnace isn’t working properly, so he has to do something. He pours more coal on, but it creates a plume of smoke, and before he can properly get the ashes out of the furnace, a newspaper man takes the shovel from him and does it. Everything seems fine, but the newspaper man, when the dust clears, keeps staring at the ashes. He slowly pulls out bones. All the men gather round, and as Bigger looks over them, he sees the bones, panics, and runs.

He runs to Bessie and forces her to go with him with some bedding to an abandoned building. There, he rapes her, and then when she is asleep, he realizes that he must kill her. He finds a brick, bashes her head in, and drops her down an air shaft. But she had the roll of bills in her pocket, and he forgot to take it out, and so now he is penniless as well. He hides in different buildings, stealing newspapers to see the headlines. He is all over in the headlines, and there is a manhunt on for him. He buys bread with the little money he has left and searches for places to hide. The manhunt for him has damaged the lives of people across the black community in the South side of Chicago. Men have been let go from their work and every black home is being raided in search of him. He cannot escape, so he hides in a kitchenette building. When they go to search that, he hides on the roof. He is almost clear when a man comes on the roof, and he decides to hit the man on the head and knock him out with the gun. He does so, but the man’s partner sees his body and sounds the alarm. Bigger climbs atop a water tower and has his gun at the ready, shooting at anyone who tries to get near him. In response, they bring a fire hose up and douse him with water, getting him to drop the gun and fall. They drag him down the stairs, and he wakes in jail.

He will not eat or speak, and when his accusers are brought before him after Bigger has fainted at the arraignment hearing, he is sickened and wants them to go way. When his family preacher comes, he feels the same, and he wishes his family and friends would not be there either. Jan also comes in, and Jan talks to him, telling him that he doesn’t understand, but he forgives him for trying to frame him and that he wants to help him by getting him a lawyer to work with. Max, the lawyer, tells him to not sign a confession or speak to the DA. But when Buckley, the DA, comes in and talks to him, he speaks and tells him what happened, and it is written down and he signs the confession. At the arraignment, he listens to them discuss his crimes and sees the evidence: bones, metal, his knife, and Bessie’s mangled body. Going out of the arraignment, he is forced in a car, and as he is getting in, he sees a burning cross on a building. He recognizes it after some time as the KKK’s burning cross, and in his fear and anger he rips the cross the preacher gave him off of his chest and refuses to put it back on or take it, associating it with the burning cross above him.

They drive him to Mr. Dalton’s house and put him in Mary’s room, which hasn’t been touched since the night of the murder. They corner him and tell him that he should show them how he killed her and what he did, how he raped her. And Bigger, furious, refuses their insistent demands. The DA decides that he doesn’t need him to do that and doesn’t want to fight with Bigger to get him to do that. Then he is put back in jail. And Max comes to him and discusses the arraignment and what will happen at the indictment and the trial.

Max, a Jew, gets Bigger to talk to him, and Bigger doesn’t understand why this man is helping him when it will make all these white men hate him too. But he decides, against his mind, to trust Max to a point, and discusses his life and how he wanted to be an aviator but couldn’t get the training and that the Navy and Army only wanted blacks for menial work so he really had no chance at life to be happy or work in a way he wanted to. He discusses the murders and says that he hated Mary for her whiteness and her behavior toward him, and that he killed Bessie out of need for survival, and he never really loved Bessie even though she was his girlfriend. After discussing things with Max, Max leaves and tells him that they will plead not guilty at the indictment and then change the plea during the trial, and he will then plead the case for mitigation of sentence so that Bigger can spend life in prison rather than die in the electric chair. Bigger doesn’t have any real hope that this is the case, but there is a small spark of hope in him because Max believes.

In the meantime, he reads the newspapers and sees that the white community has accused him of many more murders and rapes and essentially has made him out to be a beast. He knows that he will be put on trial for rape and murder even though it was not rape, just murder, of Mary Dalton. He also knows that Bessie’s body is simply evidence, and that he isn’t being tried for her murder, just the white woman’s. At the trial, the DA is upset thinking that Max is trying to make an insanity plea, and in the prosecution, he brings forth sixty witnesses to testify to both Bigger’s crimes and his sanity. The next day, Max gives an account of more than just Bigger’s life: he gives an account of the conditions that white people have created for black people that disallow them to live in quality conditions or to grow, and that it is what causes these crimes; fear of whites causes these crimes; and whites’ fear of blacks causes these crimes because they accuse blacks of these crimes before they even commit them. The prosecution rebuts the argument, saying that Bigger never really wanted a chance even when he got one and that he never wanted to work, and that the defense is just communist jargon.

An hour later, they reach a sentencing verdict. The judge sentences Bigger to die for his crimes. Max says that it is not over yet, and he will appeal to the governor. But Bigger has resigned himself. He purges himself of emotion and eats simply to stave off hunger. He doesn’t have it in him to get a gun from an officer and kill himself. His family comes to visit him once, but he doesn’t want to see them, and tells them not to come again. He doesn’t write to anyone despite having the opportunity to. On the day of his execution, Max comes to tell him he is sorry, that the plea to the governor failed. Bigger tells him he is alright, and it is fine, and that he is glad to have got to know Max. He also tries to tell Max how he felt, and Max tells him that he needs to believe in himself and the chance for freedom and equality, even though it is too late for Bigger now because of the decisions he made. And Bigger says that he does believe in himself, and that is why he did what he did: he finally found something worth believing in enough to kill for, to die for. Max, crying, says his goodbyes. Bigger tells him to tell his mother and family he is alright, and to tell Jan hello. Then the door closes behind Max, and the story ends.

Brief Note on Themes
Black-white relations is on overarching, major theme for this novel. How have racist superstructures, long in place, molded and changed black and white minds so that they deal with each other in very specific ways? What happens when those social mores are broken or trespassed? The criminal justice system is another central part of this story. Max points out that similar murders do not cause such a riot, and yet the murders committed by black men are treated that way because of race. The system itself already labeled him a criminal, and might have taken Bigger in anyway for some perceived crime. If blacks people are already labeled as criminal, is there anything we can say but that white minds created them to be criminal (kind of like the line from Thomas More’s Utopia about thieves)?

Wright also takes a lot of time to vividly describe living conditions for black people in the South side of Chicago, discussing in detail the kitchenettes, the unsanitary living conditions and exorbitant rent they pay for them, the tough time for black business owners and black men, and the life struggles of black women. He does this in great detail in his work 12 Million Black Voices, but this work, combined with the fictional narrative of Bigger Thomas, shows just how much of an effect those living conditions have on the entire community. This is a social element to the fiction. Another social element is the discussion of communist party designs on black people and their votes and influence. The characters in the communist party come off as very well meaning in the story, and yet given the literature that Jan gives to Bigger to read, people are left wondering what uses this has for the largely white-run party. It feels very similar to how the Brotherhood functions in Invisible Man.

Economic relations are another large part of this book. Mr. Dalton is the landlord for the building where the Thomas family lives. The poverty of the Thomas family is stark against the wealth of the Dalton family. The Daltons are large donators to black education and other social programs for black people, but they do so on their own terms and at a distance, where they never have to see that they are part of the cause of black suffering with their indifference and price gouging. This is the fact that the communist lawyer tries to exploit in the trial, but fails. The story reveals how the superstructures of racist power are largely upheld by economic and political means rather than simply social custom. The power behind the racial prejudice in the form of the justice system and the capitalist system keep white supremacy as the governing system.

Religion as a blinding force and power is briefly discussed in the narrative. Rather than be an aid and comfort to Bigger, Christianity is a thorn in his side, because he recognizes that the religious system just plays into racist power: if poor black people can be focused on a better life in the afterlife, they will not focus as much on their miserable living conditions on Earth. The system asks for meekness and nonviolence and for trust in God and Jesus to answer prayers and set them free, meaning that it can be a system of control; no violence to the white supremacist system can ever occur if the people actively believe that change can come from prayer and fasting and church attendance. The narrative Wright wrote shows how intertwined and complex racist superstructures are and how hard they are to dismantle, even impossible to dismantle. It showed black rage and fear to a reading public in a way that is shocking even today.

Tennessee Williams, A Streetcar Named Desire

Williams, Tennessee. A Streetcar Named Desire. 1947. New Directions, 2004.

Summary of Work
The play opens with a woman, Blanche DuBois, finding her way to her sister Stella’s home. Her sister is married to a Polish man and they live in a low income area of New Orleans. Blanche is somewhat disgusted but enters the apartment space upon being let in by a neighbor. When Stella comes home they start talking, and Blanche tells Stella that she was put on leave from teaching for the summer and that’s why she’s here to stay sooner than expected. She also tells Stella that they lost their home, Belle Reve, to mortgage because she had to keep taking money out against it to pay for funerals for all the family members after Stella left. Blanche is her usual self, very self-centered and obsessed with looking and acting younger than she is and always dressing fancy and acting fancy.

Her husband Stanley is very upset upon hearing about Blanche’s dealings with the real estate and says that Blanche has swindled them and used the money to buy fancy clothing, throwing out all of Blanche’s clothing from her trunk to prove it. Stella tries to talk Stanley out of talking to Blanche, who is bathing, but he insists. When she comes out of the bathroom, he confronts her, and she is forthright with him about what happened. Stella goes to get Blanche a lemon coke in the meantime. Stanley also lets slip that Stella is pregnant and that is one of the reasons he’s concerned about her land.

After a few days having Blanche around, Stanley is having friends over one evening for a poker night, and Stella takes Blanche out so as to not worry her or bother the men. They get in at 2:30 AM, but the men are still playing poker. They are very drunk, and due to Blanche’s insistence on music and his friend Mitch’s insistence on talking to Blanche, when Stella tells Stanley to end the poker night, he beats her and the men have to get him away from her. Blanche takes Stella out and they go upstairs to their neighbor’s. That evening, Stanley yells up to her that he’s sorry and to come back, and she sneaks out and spends the night with him. Blanche is beside herself over this, and the next afternoon when she thinks Stanley won’t be coming home she tells her sister that she thinks he is common and a brute and that she doesn’t understand why Stella stays with him. Stanley walks in during the middle of the speech, and he pretends he didn’t hear her.

In the meantime, Mitch starts dating Blanche. His mother is sick and dying, and she wants him to settle down before she dies. He thinks that Blanche might be a good choice. He learns of Blanche’s first marriage when she was young: she married a good looking young man who wrote beautiful poetry, and one night she caught him with another man. When they were at a dance together, she told him she knew that he was degenerate and how much she hated him for it, and he ran outside during a polka song and shot himself. Meanwhile, Stanley, wondering about why Blanche is really sticking around for so long and worried about his friend’s interests in Blanche, decides to investigate about her.

On Blanche’s birthday, when Stella is getting things ready for a party, Stanley tells her that Blanche has done some terrible things; when she lost Belle Reve she moved into a cheap hotel called the Flamingo and had a string of lovers so large that the hotel kicked her out; and while she was teaching she became involved with one of her high school students, and she was forced out of town. Stella doesn’t want to believe it, and she’s upset that Stanley has not only verified it through three different people but has told Mitch. Mitch doesn’t come to the birthday party even though Blanche is waiting for him. During the party, after dinner, when Stella tells Stanley to bring the dishes to the sink, he slams them to the ground and then confronts Blanche about her previous behavior. She admits to it, and yet sees no problem with her behavior. And when Blanche leaves the room, Stella goes into labor and Stanley has to take her to the hospital.

While they are at the hospital, Mitch stops by in his work clothes and talks to Blanche. Blanche finds out what he’s been told, and that Mitch no longer intends to marry her because of what kind of woman she is. He finds out that she is older than he thought, but is fine with that. And he attempts to have sex with her, but she screams fire out the window and he gets scared and leaves. But then Stanley comes home, drunk. Blanche is also drunk, having been drinking heavily the whole summer and emptying out Stanley’s liquor. Stanley says that the baby hasn’t come yet and they told him to go home and they’d let him know when his child was born. He says he’ll put on his pajamas that he wore the first night of his marriage and rip them off to celebrate when he gets the phone call. Blanche, worried, tries to get the operator to put her on the phone with a rich man she knew in Dallas, an oil man. But she is not successful, and when she backs herself into the bedroom and tells Stanley to stay away, he comes on to her and rapes her.

Weeks later, everyone is still catering to Blanche, but Stella has decided that she needs to put Blanche in a psychiatric ward. And they have told her that Shep, the man from Dallas, is coming to get her. Stella worries that it is the wrong decision, but she cannot believe what Blanche told her about what Stanley did that night, and so she has to do something to get Blanche out. The men are again at their home playing poker, and Stella’s neighbor is out with her to give her support when the doctor comes. When he does come, Blanche at first resists until she is forced down by the matron. Stella can’t stand to watch, and she has second thoughts, but her neighbor tells her it is the only way. Blanche talks to the doctor and calmly goes with him, telling him that she’s always relied on the kindness of strangers. As she leaves, she doesn’t say goodbye to anyone, and both Stella and Mitch are terribly upset. As the play closes, the men are still playing poker.

Brief Note on Themes
This play has a number of running themes or conflicts worth discussing: race relations, since one of the issues that Blanche has with Stanley is that he’s Polish, and this really bothers Stanley; economic and class struggles, as Blanche is further frustrated with her sister’s choice in husband because he is poor and from a lower social class than they were, having come from a plantation home of old money in Mississippi. The play explores the decline of individuals or families who have seemingly met with success in reaching the American Dream and their inability to fully let go of the lifestyle and attitudes that came with such wealth and privilege.

Male-female relationships, both romantic and familial, are explored through Stella’s relationship, somewhat abusive, and Blanche’s relationship with Stanley; female friendship and companionship heavily features in this play; the nature of story and actions is also a running discussion, as Blanche’s whole life is a series of lies or glossed-over truths which later make it hard or impossible for people to believe she was raped. The dual nature of male/female moral expectations also features, as Stanley has been very promiscuous and demanding of women and does not receive anywhere near the same treatment that Blanche receives for her promiscuity. This seems to play in Blanche’s favor, however, in the fact that she is simply sent away instead of put on criminal trial for sex with a minor (perhaps this wasn’t a legal issue in the early 1900s?). Questions about morals and forgiveness or belief in a person’s statements given their previous actions feature heavily in this play.

Music features throughout the play, with blues playing in the background. The lifestyle that these men live is a rough one of work, but they regularly enjoy poker and games such as bowling. The music itself, and the streetcars that run throughout the area and make such loud noise as they pass, show the co-mingling of progress and innovation and poverty and decline within the same space of a city.

Ernest Hemingway, “Hills Like White Elephants”

Hemingway, Ernest. “Hills Like White Elephants.” 40 Short Stories: A Portable Anthology,

       Third Edition. Ed. Beverly Lawn. Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2009.

Summary of Work
A man and woman are waiting for a train in Barcelona and sitting in a bar. They order beers and then more drinks, and the woman comments that the mountains, white against the brown countryside, look like white elephants. The man is annoyed and they start talking about an unnamed procedure he would like her to have. From the context, readers assume this woman is pregnant and he is asking her to get an abortion. He keeps saying that he doesn’t want her to do it if she doesn’t want to, but it would fix all their problems and they would be happy again. She starts making comments about how maybe it would make him love her again. He insists he still loves her, but he just wants her. But if she wants to go through with it, he’ll let her. She makes a comment about how if she does it then they will be able to go everywhere and have the world, and he says that’s not true, but she doesn’t really listen. The bartender lets them know the train is five minutes out, and he moves their luggage and they move into the bar area where everyone is waiting for the train to Madrid.

Brief Note on Themes
This short story seems to highlight the rich, carefree expat life that this couple is having. It would seem they are American, and the idea of relationship identity and individual identity come to the forefront as they discuss what it means to be a couple versus single or being a family. Relationships, particularly sexual relationships, are key here because it shows what happens when unexpected pregnancy or similar factors are brought into a primarily sexual relationship. There is a communication breakdown or whole relationship breakdown because of the selfishness that comes with their identity. Male-Female relations are also part of it: it’s unclear of the entire dynamic, but it feels like he is forcing his will upon her even as he says he doesn’t care, particularly evident in her reaction. It is also unclear if she decides to have the abortion or to keep the child, but based on how much she is drinking and that they are still traveling, it seems likely that she’s just going to do what she’s told. Much as many of Hemingway’s female characters, they are poorly written or drawn as either stupid and easily swayed and careless or as mostly manly and vixens, she is the careless and stupid type. The short story itself functions on mostly dialogue and a minimalist sense of language. Most of the story goes on though implied context rather than explicitly stated.

F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

Fitzgerald, F. Scott. The Great Gatsby. 1925. Scribner, 2004.

 

Summary of Work
Nick Carraway moves to New York City to work in bonds, and takes a small home in the West Egg countryside just outside of town. His cousin Daisy and her husband Tom Buchanan live in East Egg, and through them he meets golfer Jordan Baker. They are rich and live a lavish and carefree lifestyle. Tom is known for being a philanderer, and so they have had to move a lot when the scandals come out. Carraway meets Tom’s current mistress in a social outing, and sees firsthand the lavish and ridiculous lifestyle Tom lives. While Carraway is going in between work and social engagements, he sees his mysterious neighbor who hosts fancy parties every Saturday, Mr. Jay Gatsby. No one knows quite what Gatsby does or who he is, but many famous people show up to his lavish parties, where food, liquor, and entertainment are in never-ending supply.

He is invited over to Gatsby’s house for a party one weekend, and overwhelmed by the lavishness, he latches onto Jordan Baker so he can take in the party. He unknowingly meets Gatsby, and Gatsby has a private meeting with Jordan. Soon after, Gatsby takes Carraway to lunch, and tells him a bit about himself and that he has a favor to ask of him that Miss Baker will do for him, introduces him to Meyer Wolfsheim, the gambler and bootlegger, and then runs off when Tom Buchanan enters and starts talking to Carraway. Afterwards, he has tea with Jordan and discovers that Gatsby would like to have Carraway have Daisy to tea and allow him to attend. He determines he will do it, and Gatsby awkwardly offers Carraway work for easy money, but knowing that it is because of the service he is rendering, he refuses the work.

Gatsby meets Daisy and their love is rekindled—they had met before the war and before Daisy had married Tom. Gatsby, aka James Gatz, was penniless and unable to support her lifestyle, and he had been denied his inheritance from one Mr. Cody, who he had worked for sailing for five years before the War. The affair quickly heats up. She and Tom come to one of his parties, but she dislikes it, so he never has a party again. He fires his staff and hires new ones that Wolfsheim recommends, people who will keep quiet about the affair. Daisy comes over on the afternoons. Gatsby concocts a plan to get Daisy to tell Tom she never loved him and to leave her husband and marry him. She invites Gatsby over to lunch at her place so the conversation can occur, but she gets nervous and insists they go to town. It is during this lunch that Tom realizes she loves Gatsby, and also insists they go into town. Tom drives Gatsby’s car and Daisy and Gatsby drive Tom’s car. Tom stops for gas at Wilson’s (his mistress’s husband’s place), and learns that Wilson has discovered his wife’s unfaithfulness and is going to move them West to get away. Tom is even more desperate, about to lose his wife and mistress in one day.

They go to a hotel room near Central Park, where a fight breaks out and Daisy cannot state that she never loved Tom, breaking Gatsby’s heart. It also comes out that Gatsby is a bootlegger. Daisy decides she wants to leave, and Gatsby lets her drive home. Mrs. Wilson, thinking the yellow car is Tom, runs out into the street and Daisy hits her and kills her, driving off without stopping. Tom is devastated when he sees the scene as they drive back in his car. The next day, Tom tells Mr. Wilson who owned the yellow car in order to save his own life, and Wilson goes and kills Gatsby, and Daisy and Tom leave town. The only people to attend Gatsby’s funeral are a few servants, Carraway, and Gatsby’s father. Carraway can’t stand the East after that, and so breaks off his relationship with Jordan Baker and heads back home to the Midwest.

 

Brief Note On Themes
Set in the 1920s during Prohibition, this novel deals heavily with the spectacle and lavish living of rich whites during the time period. The work provides a commentary on how empty and careless the upper social classes are. It also explores he ideal of the American Dream, finding it to be hollow. The green light at the end of the dock could be said to represent the dreams of success, acceptance, and love that are ever unattainable and almost unreal in nature. Social status is explored as the discussion of people who live in East Egg versus West Egg are always apparent, showing the split between old money and new money. The whole area and social feuding are contrasted by the desolation of the space between the two Eggs and the city: a desolate and trashy waste space where the poor live and work. Above them loom the eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg on a billboard, which overlook the moral degradation of those who live there and those who pass through the space between city and countryside.