Archive for the ‘Vol. 2: Fall Essays 2012’ Category

merrie-monarchAs the cool atmosphere engulfs us, the overwhelming smell of jet fuel and coffee fills our senses. Slowly moving within the shuffle in our quest to reach our seats and quietly arguing over who gets the window, reality is slowly beginning to sink in. I start to feel self-conscious as the seated passengers display a look that I’m sure is because I haven’t put on any makeup this morning. Oh no, I look like an ogre! I begin to hide my face by pulling the hood of my jacket over my head when I realize that the seated passengers are giving their skull-piercing glares in their telekinetic attempts to make the line of the non-seated passengers move faster. After what feels like miles of the walk of shame, we finally reach our row of three seats. I volunteer to endure the dreadful middle seat, to somewhat settle the inevitable arguments to come, and I sit in between my two hula sisters.

Holy cow. We’re going to Merrie Monarch. I take a deep breath as the plane begins to taxi down the runway. I look out the window to see a dimly lit sky and what seems to be a mirror of the night sky on the ground when it’s really just the strategically placed lights to guide the plane’s pilot. My eyes begin to sting with the sensation of forming tears, and I try to hide it by faking a yawn. I decide I need to escape my own emotions, and I fold myself in half so my face is in my lap on my penguin Pillow Pet that I decided to bring along. I suppress my tears and begin to say a silent prayer in my head. Dear God, thank you for blessing me and letting me be selected to dance in the Merrie Monarch line this year. I’m so grateful for my hula sisters and Kumu Lani and Kumu Denise. Please keep us safe on this trip and our flight. Let everything run smoothly once we get to Hilo, please. Amen. I finish my prayer and sit up to see we’re beginning our descent into the Hilo International Airport. All my life I’ve dreamt of dancing on the Merrie Monarch stage and in a few days, I’ll be performing two songs we’ve practiced enough during the past year that it is permanently embedded in our minds and hearts like a tattoo. Wait, did I bring my costumes? I quickly rack my brain as if I’m digging through files in a huge cabinet and remember that they are in the overhead storage directly above us. Phew.

The plane smoothly lands on the runway, and I look out the window somewhere into the heavens and mouth “thank you.” I notice that the sun has begun its slow ascent as if someone on the opposite horizon is tugging it on an invisible string. It’s about seven o’clock in the morning and the gentle drizzle of rain outside our plane window is slowly setting the mood of the day. I quickly rummage through my purse that is swollen with all the items that couldn’t fit in my luggage. I grab my phone and snap a picture from my point of view on the plane looking out the watermarked window over the wings and onto the flight path. “The rain is a blessing from Jesus, ladies. Don’t worry,” Kumu Lani’s voice overpowers the hum of the aircraft. The flight attendant announces in her too-cheerful-for-seven-in-the-morning voice that we’re allowed to unbuckle, gather our belongings, and disembark from the plane. My hula sister, Theresa, leans over from her seat across the isle and whispers to us, “Game on, bitches.” The three of us try to stifle our laughs after hearing the inside joke that was intended to encourage us and lighten the mood.

After we’ve gotten our luggage and our three rental vans, and have all piled ourselves in according to the limited seating due to all the oversized luggage stacked like Tetris blocks in the vans, we head out to Deep Hawaii. I learn that Deep Hawaii is in Kea`au, which is very close to the Edith Kanaka`ole Stadium where the Merrie Monarch Festival is held annually. We make last minute stops on the way to pick up necessities that were forgotten at home such as earplugs to block out the overwhelming sound of the Coqui frogs, blankets, and other toiletries. We drive for what seems like an eternity through a lush forest filled with beautiful flowers that I have only seen in paintings and photographs. There is no way that there are actually houses back here. We’re in the jungle! Oh jeez, that means bugs. I grimace and shudder at the thought of having to sleep with tropical bugs flying and crawling around me. We make a few turns and end up on the property where we’ll be staying.

Overgrown trees filled with colorful flowers only nourished by nature itself surround the area. At this moment, my senses quickly become overwhelmed with the surrounding beauty. The sight of butterflies fluttering through the foliage and the gentle chirping of birds off in the distance bring me into a whole new world. I soak in the sweet aroma of the tropical flowers and the smell of rain that’s just fallen as I relish the sense of security from being with my hula sisters. We’re given our room assignments and begin to move our luggage from the car to our new home for the next five days. Four of my hula sisters and I are crammed into a room that’s about ten feet by ten feet. There’s one surprisingly comfortable full-sized bed, covered with a fluffy, flowered comforter, an inflatable queen-sized mattress with a set of sheets and a blanket folded neatly in the center and one single-person cot set up in the center with a blanket folded on it. Once we’ve finished analyzing the room, we all rush in like horses released from the gate at a horse derby. We each claim our area and use our bags as a fence in our attempts to mark our territory. After we’ve tried to organize our clutter in our room, we’re called to lunch to establish our plans for the rest of the week.

Throughout the week, we visit craft fairs, endure the sweat and tears of our last-minute practices before the competition, and most importantly learn more about our songs. As we’re being taught about the ancient hula which has been passed down to our two Kumu generation after generation, emotions begin to swarm through us like bees. One moment we’re laughing and smiling at each other, and the next, we’re in tears. The tears are brought on by a multitude of emotions ranging from pride, sorrow, nostalgia, and even gratitude towards our fallen Queen Lili’uokalani, whom our songs are about.

It’s Thursday already! Time is flying by…we compete tomorrow! My hula sisters and I begin to get ready for the first night of the festival, the Miss Aloha Hula Competition. Oh my. As we take our seats in the stadium, the scent of the fresh tropical flowers being worn as lei or hairpieces by the participants, kumu, or the spectators fills the air. The stage lighting gives the whole stadium an orange hue as the sun is setting and the Coqui frogs begin their melodic chirping. The anticipation heightens as we wait for the first dancer to step on stage. The soft murmurs of the crowd begin to diminish as the emcee introduces the first soloist.

Today is the day. We wake up before the sun, our hair in braids hopeful that we’ll achieve the look of the historical Hawaiian hula dancers, and head to our first stage rehearsal. Wow. The stadium is filled with energy even with no one in it. We quickly run through our dance mentally marking our spots on the stage and are soon ushered out of the arena by security to protect the authenticity of the dance as the next hālau is brought into the arena.

“Aloha,” we repeat as we hug each other in the van, on our way from our temporary home to the stadium. We quietly line up as we prepare for our entrance. “I love you guys. We got this,” I whisper to my hula sisters as we stand behind the stage. Our line begins to move towards the stage and we take our place on the four ramps at each corner of the stage. Mahalo ke Akua. I thank God for bringing us this far as I become oblivious to my surroundings and begin to absorb the mana, or power, my hula sisters and I are giving off. The melodic rhythm of Kumu Lani’s ipu heke fills the stadium, and suddenly we are one.

Written for Cara Chang’s ENG 100: Composition I


theoryFirst of all, let me be clear about something so that I am not accused of having a hidden agenda: I hated this class.

Yeah, you tell ‘em!

This class did not spark any interest in me, nor did the challenge of the class provoke me to a higher level of learning.

Keep giving it to them!

I am a long-time college student who has taken more college-level English courses than I can remember, and  I have never once come across a class that I found to be more stressful, impossible, and plain unlikable as this class.

You’re warming up now! Bring it home!

I found the topics to be ridiculously absurd and completely incoherent for the average person.

Nailed it!

Now that I have been clear about my feelings for this class, let me be clear about something else: Every single English student at the college level should be required to take a class in Literary Theory such as this.


In today’s world, we have a lot of students who declare a major such as English because they used to like to read books when they were in high school or because they have an affinity for writing and want to become the next legendary wordsmith.  Most students do not have any idea what literary theory is all about. They may have heard the words before and know theoretically what it is all about but they have no actual experience or practice with theory.

They theoretically know what theory is?! You’re becoming one of them!

In order for students to have a complete understanding of what it means to study literature, they must look at it from the viewpoint of theory.  For an undergraduate, this will be difficult and hard to understand, but even if they don’t fully grasp the concepts that they study, the act of looking at literature from a standpoint that they have never conceived of is a great development tool for them.

Are you trying to tell me that even if you are completely confused by a class, you are benefiting by being confused? Seriously! I disagree completely. An undergrad must be made to feel comfortable with the material they are learning. If they begin to feel that sinking feeling of not being able to comprehend, the chances of them continuing to pursue those studies go down significantly.  At this level we must make education an exciting opportunity for them and not overwhelm.

I’ll agree that the concepts that are put forth by Structuralism and Post-Structuralism can be so counter-intuitive to what we have been taught all of our lives prior to it that it can easily frustrate an undergrad.

Uh huh, check that one!

However, as the students incrementally pick up individual concepts, the larger ideas become clearer to understand.  And it is the incremental learning that ultimately benefits the rest of their literary work.  During this class we are training ourselves to look for patterns or structures in the texts; as we learn and implement this small tool it begins to flood over to our other studies.  The simple act of forcing ourselves to look at literature from an angle that we had previously not used only deepens our understanding of literature.

So you want to convince me that something that you completely do not understand will make you better? Look I may have been able to understand some of these ideas after having them spoon fed to me by Dr. B but my ability to comprehend them on my own was severely limited. Which, in turn, led me to not be able to confidently attack a piece of literature using these tools. The end result was a student who was completely frustrated with the learning process. Is that what we want to expose our students to?

If we look at the general education process, students are always given broader subjects to begin with and then slowly focus in on specific topics.  A freshman undergrad must complete their core subjects before they are able to begin their specific major courses.  This way they are given a broad overview of education and are allowed to then make an informed choice as to what they want to study.  Within our English major, we must be given an overview of what literature studies entail completely before we get to a graduate level of study.  This way we will be able to make an informed choice about what we want to focus our literature studies on.

Ok, I will agree with your premise that the more information that an undergrad receives the richer their education experience will be, but there has to be a level of comprehension to the material or else it is just a waste of time. I can walk into a microbiology course and probably be able to understand a piece here or a piece there when the professor breaks it down, but that in no way means that I would be able to take those bits and pieces and apply them to any type of thought process to produce anything meaningful. Take for example the concept of Differance from Derrida.  Now when it was explained by Dr. B in the classroom it was possible for me to understand.  And then when she breaks down a piece of literature and gives examples of what Derrida is referring to with this concept, it even makes sense.  However, this concept is so abstract and alien to the intelligence that I have developed over the years, that when I try to apply this concept on my own it is impossible.  This is not a concept that can be learned in a 16 week semester where we meet a few hours a week.  This is a concept that must be learned through great mental repetition and something that is much more appropriately situated at the graduate school level.

Aren’t we then allowing our undergraduate population to slip? Shouldn’t the number one job be to challenge the minds of our young students and not to find a way to coddle them? Yes, these are tough subjects and abstract ideas that will challenge your mind but you’re not in kindergarten anymore. It’s time to put up or shut up. The phrase is you “earn” your degree from a university.  If you want a degree in literature studies from a university, then literary theory should be a required course for you. Now, you do not need to be a literary theorist to receive an undergrad degree but being able to speak to the basic concepts of it and educate the average person on it should not be too much to ask for.  However, at the very same time, the world of literature is a large one and just because you do not understand literary theory does not mean you can’t be a part of it. Literary theory did not exist up until relatively recently on the historical timeline of humans using the written word.  English’s most important writer, Shakespeare, came and went in this world without every giving a thought to the formalized concepts of literary theory.  Literary theory is just another tool in the work belt of anyone involved with literature today. It can be used or it can be discarded but it must be a tool that is offered.

I’ll agree with the idea that it is a tool that may or may not be used and also with the idea that one does not need to master literary theory in order to continue with one’s literary studies, but we will have to agree to disagree on the benefits of offering it to an undergrad. I would be completely on board with the idea of offering a broad level overview class of all literary theories and what they are in general.  That way undergrads could be made aware of the topics but not be overwhelmed with their complexity.

I believe we can agree that this topic is one that needs to be taught to undergrads; however, where we differ is on the level of detail that the instruction must go to.  I feel a level of specifics must be taught in order for there to be a true grasp of the ideas.  A survey level course would be nothing but a waste of time to all involved because it would not offer enough knowledge for a true understanding to occur.  However, a full blown course on a specific theory may send the students running to another area of study.

Written for Prof. Brenda Machosky’s ENG 300D: Topics in Literary Theory: Structuralism and Post-Structuralism

koreaWithin recent years, a transition in the entertainment industry has swept in from across the pond.  This new phenomenon is known as Asian pop culture.  Derived from Western pop, this music type is in a genre all its own, primarily because Asian pop reflects the exotic vibe from foreign cultures, or at least that is what one would think.  Artists on everyone’s playlist include Korean pop’s Mr. Mr., T-Ara, Teen top and Flash Back.  Less well-known artists from China are Jay Chou, Hit 5, Lee-Hom Wang and F.I.R.  As the force of Asian pop progresses, we will see a global effect that will reshape humanity.  Music aficionados who are aware of Asian pop culture tend to favor Korean pop the greatest, although Chinese pop is better and should be most favored.

As clearly exemplified in the Asia-Pacific realm, K-pop (Korean pop) is seen as a dominant, secondary innovation, which improves on American pop origins. “Having taken Asia by storm over the past decade with bubblegum hooks and dance moves staged with military precision, K-pop in recent years has garnered a small but growing fan base among teenagers in parts of Europe and America” (France-Presse, 2012).  The vibe of the music is the advantage of K-pop.  According to the professional singer G. NA, “It’s very melodious, very easy to sing along to” (Lindvall, 2011).  But the integrity of K-pop ends there.  Whether on stage or a music video, ridiculous antics are featured.  These silly acts appeal to down-to-earth, frivolous personalities, commonly characterized by teenagers.

Of course, the general public is bombarded by the energetic explosion of modern Korean pop music.  Accordingly, it is simple to understand why the youth regards them with increased admiration over the mildness of C-pop (Chinese pop).  Korean pop stars use marketing and advertising practices much better than Chinese artists; thereby, contributing to their fandom.  Sandy Monteiro, the president of UMG International, a music production and management company in Korea, believes that part of the success amongst Korean singers is their promotion abroad. Yet, K-pop will never achieve its maximum height, since the public is very judgmental of the lyrics and the singers speaking in different languages (Lindvall, 2011a).  Although K-pop has effectively gained supporters, it mainly caters to the younger generation with all its wild and crazy dance moves, and with lyrics that are really vacuous in meaning.  If K-pop was more original like C-pop, the artists could appeal to a wider range of fans.  Instead, they are more like copycats.

In addition, it is China’s leaders like Hu Jintao, the current president of China believes that business ventures should be centered on developing cultural products that can draw the interest of the Chinese and meet the “growing spiritual and cultural demands of the people” (Wong, 2012). He does not believe pop culture does this. However, by observing such music talents as Jay Chou and Hit 5 in videos, the appearance of Chinese identity is clearly displayed with ancient ceremonial attire worn by these and other artists.  “Mr. Hu did not did not address the widespread assertion by Chinese artists and intellectuals that state censorship is what prevents artists and their works from reaching their full potential” (Wong, 2012).  He should not speak about what the people should want in their music since his ideas do not reflect our modern, high-tech age of quality music.

Ultimately, C-pop should be the most favored music, when compared to its Asian counterparts, especially K-pop, since K-pop endorses a tawdry copy of Western pop.  According to the Hong Kong University Press, “Transcultural hybridity is one of the most significant aspects of contemporary South Korean popular culture in the postmodern era and it is the main driving force behind its overseas popularity” (Jung, 2010).  Although K-pop is more accessible to an entire world-wide audience, this is only a commercial initiative.  Local radio stations dedicate a specified station solely to K-pop.  Why not C-pop?  A lack of marketing and advertising in the Chinese economy inhibit them from expanding.  This is a problem.  If there were more exposure to the public, undoubtedly C-pop would be a big competitor in the global marketplace.  While Chinese artists are restrained in their contributions to culture, the youth must then opt for other entertainers from foreign states, one of them being South Korea (MacLeod, 2012).  By discouraging Chinese pop culture, Chinese nationals pine for music with a modern twist, driving them to spend their time and money on the Korean economy.  Ultimately, Chinese music fans paying money to foreign competitors hurts China’s economy.  To address this, politics and business modes in China call for a change.

One plan for the industry as a surefire solution to their struggle is to come in contact with other foreign music producers and expose them to their music; they could help fund C-pop artists to bring them to their country and share their culture through their music. Overall, C-pop shows the human experience from the Chinese perspective, which is what its fans are acknowledging and expressing when they go to their concerts or like them on their YouTube accounts.  This support for the industry would benefit everyone, because it would be showing that Chinese pop music can bring us all together around a common interest in true, Asian pop culture, untainted by outside influences.

When viewing such programs as SBS Songs and KBS Music Bank, every performer is remarkably young, catering solely to the period of non-age.  But what happens to the significance of such young at heart melodies, when one faces reality in adulthood?  Reminisce at the way they jammed to “my song” or turn away at the nonsense of juvenile imagination, saying, “Why did I think that song was so great?”  Surely, as we age, our perception of surroundings heightens, so our attitudes change along with it.  Thus, K-pop flourishes with the young demographic, because they have a sense in them to be rebellious, wild, exciting and purely fun.  However, once the unavoidable hands of time bring on responsibilities, one must let go of immaturity, including K-pop songs symbolizing immaturity.  This is where C-pop comes in, as it is directed at a wider range of audience, given the extensive age difference of music artists.

Unlike the sensibility of C-pop music, K-pop is very confusing.  The topics sung in Chinese pop music are relevant to the real world: relationships with parents, references to love lives, fighting for beliefs, and overcoming personal struggles.  All of these themes are found among esteemed performers in Chinese pop culture.  For instance, Hit-5’s Loving You in Every Second articulates how deep down inside, a couple is fated to be together.  The singer declares that he will prove their inevitable inseparability by writing about it to his lover.  He is determined to block all the negative comments about his feeling towards her, and pleads with his girl to embrace fated their mutual affection.  This characteristic enables C-pop to be relatable to listeners, since these are experiences everyone can share on a fairly equal level.  Oppositely, K-pop songs focus on trivial occurrences.  G-Dragon’s Get Your Crayon continuously repeats the song title in the chorus.  “A few English words are added to create meaningless song titles” (Lindvall, 2011b).  Speaking such random thoughts is something one would never, in one’s right mind, do.  This song leaves an impression of so what?  What am I going to do with a crayon?  Thus, it is easier to get the meaning of a song when it tells a story (anecdote), as in C-pop.

Besides the questionable reasoning behind K-pop music lyrics, the choreography can often be too close for comfort.  In Mr. Mr.’s Who’s that Girl, this boy band dances in a very risqué manner.  All of the members touch their bodies as if they are in heat.  They even appear to give the impression of a peculiar type of personality, as they hold up their cloaks to cover their faces, only revealing their eyes.  How creepy is that?  It is this sexual physicality amongst K-pop idols that demean their personae, with seemingly lewd intentions toward the onlooking viewers.  Almost not fit for TV, it would be appropriate to rate K-pop as PG-13.  In contrast, Chinese pop dance routines are quite innocent.  Rainie Yang, for instance, might not dance at all in most of her onstage performances/videos, similar to other Chinese pop artists.  However, refraining from such dancing connects these singers to their viewers with lyrics that make a lot more sense and melodies that create beautiful sounds to the ear.  If you add crazy dance steps to the music, it sort of distracts the audience from what one is trying to get across in ones’s song.  This defeats the whole purpose of trying to reach out to fans and relaying a message.

Unlike Chinese pop artists, K-pop stars Epik High and Big Star incorporate foreign coiffures, such as the faux hawk and dread extensions.  Typical amongst the countless bands that have come and gone over the years, these artists are noticeable from miles away and appear as if is they are not proud of who they are and their natural looks.  With this superficial transformation, K-pop luminaries presume tacky mirroring of American and European groups.  If music aficionados feel they should admire these attributes, why not settle for non-Korean music icons, the original source of the so-called “beauty” concept.  After all, Chinese singers reflect a comfort in their individuality of distinct facial features, by showing the public their real selves, not the standardized clones of flawless, model-like Caucasian people.

Even though Chinese pop culture has not fully developed its market, C-pop is the hidden, better form of Asian pop culture compared to K-pop.  So, it would be beneficial for the Chinese music industry to be more liberal in their business practices, since this is their only weakness.  If Korean singers are able to promote their music to Chinese fans, why don’t Chinese singers do so as well?  The future of China will be largely determined by how its culture progresses, and since C-pop is vital to this process, we must start picking up our head phones immediately and listen to it.

Works Cited

Fisher, M. (2012, August 23).  Gangnam Style Dissected: The Subversive Message within South Korea’s Music Video Sensation.  The Atlantic.

France-Presse, A. (2012, November 25).  Psy, the Wacky Korean Singer Who Made YouTube History.

Jung, S. (2010).  TransAsia Screen Cultures: Korean Masculinities and Transcultural Consumption.    (p. 177).  Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press popculture. eBook.

Lindvall, H. (2011a, April 20).  Behind the Music: What is K-pop and why are the Swedish Getting Involved?  The Guardian.

Lindvall, H. (2011b, April 20).  K-pop: How South Korea turned Round its Music Scene. The Guardian.

MacLeod, C. (2012, January 11).  China Strikes at West Through Pop Culture Wars. USA Today

Seabrook, J. (2012, October 08).  Factory Girls: Cultural Technology and the Making of K-pop. The New Yorker, 1-8.

Wong, E. (2012, January 06).  China’s President Lashes Out at Western Culture.  The New York Times.

Written for Cara Chang’s ENG 100: Composition I

sportIn the sports world, women continue to be the underdogs. Being the youngest and only female (athlete) of my siblings, I know firsthand what it feels like to be an underdog. Overall, women have come a long way in America throughout the last century. As in a baseball game, they’ve made a few great hits but have yet to land a homerun. The 19th Amendment brought women to first base in 1920 as they gained the right to vote. The Equal Pay Act of 1963 was a double, and gave them the right to equal pay for the same job as a corresponding male. Almost a decade later, Title IX of the Educational Amendments in 1972 hit a remarkable triple and made it to third base by giving women the right to actually partake in sports. Despite these astonishing plays, females have yet to hit it out of the park because apparently, “we still have a long way to go in the achievement of full equality for women athletes” (Heywood 25). Women face a gender bias because women’s and men’s sports are differentially constructed by the media; the amount of sports coverage, the framing of intentional audience building, and the visual and verbal attributions made by the media create an ideology of male superiority and dominance in sports. Well you know what? Just because the majority of women are biologically weaker than men, it shouldn’t allow men to dominate women in sports media. The female population is a majority in actuality, and women should receive fair and equal exposure in the media. Title IX granted women the rights to participate in athletics, therefore, they deserve the same rights to equal exposure. However, the media is bombarded by an avalanche of male dominance, and that needs to change.

The scarce amount of women’s sports coverage in comparison to the men’s are a symbol of the annihilation of female athletes. According to a study of 6 weeks of television sports news coverage done in the early 90’s, men received around 93% of air time; similarly and shockingly, only 5 minutes were dedicated to women’s sports out of 200 hours of sports coverage on Australian television. In a newspaper studies, men’s sports stories outnumbered women’s by a ratio of 23 to 1 and about 92% of the photos published were of men. Around the same time, NCAA News devoted less than 10% of written coverage to female athletes or women’s sports(Messner). At one point, Sports Illustrated featured female athletes on their cover only four times in twenty years (Heywood 1). Both the television and print media underrepresent female athletes, and women’s sports in general, while exposing male athletes and men’s sports eminently. This underrepresentation and disproportionate amount of coverage for women’s sports portrays the male dominance in sports.

The insufficient amount of representation the women do get, however, is still always less appealing than that of the men’s. In Erik Person’s article submitted to The Sport Digest, he claims, “The media creates fans.” What Person claims that the media does not simply report news, but constructs it by framing it. Advertisements, announcements and commentaries on men’s sports events were noticed to be made excessively throughout the duration of women’s sports events, whereas little to no coverage of women’s sports events were made during men’s sports events. A common strategy used to frame and build an audience for men’s sports is the airing of many regular season games; this causes the viewers to become more familiar with the teams and male athletes (Messner 173). For instance, NBA season games are frequently airing, unlike the WNBA season games which rarely ever air. Another technique used by the media is the televised shows and commercial ads leading up to the sports events. Weeks before the event, there are commercials advertising the event, the competing teams, and players. Another example is the countdown to events in pregame shows, which include commentators, such as Monday Night Football. This is compelling to the viewers, and an effective way to evoke anticipation and excitement for what’s to come. All this hype and enthusiasm for men’s sports created by media renders women’s sports to be less interesting, less exciting, and less newsworthy.  Media seems to neglect female athletes, lacking techniques in building an audience for them and their sports. Media’s framing tactic makes women seem inferior and far less important than men in the world of sports.

What is important to know is that the characterization of the coverage is just as significant as the amount of coverage. Ideologically, men have to maintain the image of strength and control, and media characterizes this image both verbally and visually. Gender marking is a perfect example of verbal characterization; Distinguishing between “basketball” and “women’s basketball,” or “tennis” and “women’s tennis,” positions man as dominant and women subordinate because it derives women from “the standard” (Messner 180). In his article, Person points out that women are stereotypically seen as the weaker, softer sex who even at their best, are not as strong as men, but are more desirable in appearance instead. Verbal attribution made by commentators in sports is an example of this characterization through the media: Strength-suggesting terms such as powerful, gutsy, or confident are most commonly used to describe the performances of men. However, women are tacked on with terms such as weary, frustrated, and dejected, suggesting weakness. Visually, males are portrayed as superior and dominant when photographed through their poses, especially alongside a female. Women are rarely ever captured in action shots (versus still and sexualized poses) compared to men because ads would rather capture a woman’s feminism and beauty than her athleticism, for the man emphasizes strength and the symbolic suppression of weakness. The male body is depicted as a symbol of power and dominance, verbally and visually, due to the obvious, yet significant, physical gender differences that the larger, more muscular body of a male is biologically superior to that of the lesser, female body (Messner 175).

As a female, I am very much feminine. Growing up with two older, athletic brothers, I grew up around sports and got involved myself: basketball, flag football, baseball, and softball. I then developed an athletic side. I played with boys and girls, and was more talented and stronger than a share of both genders. Thanks to stereotypes primarily portrayed by media, many people underestimated me as an athlete when playing alongside boys. Their doubts soon turned into admiration as they were surprised by my athleticism as a female. When it came to softball picture takings for high school, I had a pose for both the feminist and the athlete in me. For the “girly-girl” in me, I’d lie on the grass, looking pretty and posing alongside my bat & glove. For the athlete in me, I’d stand tall, softball in one hand, and flexing my muscles in the other arm. Once, someone called me the “alpha female.” The alpha female is the dominant female of a pack, as the alpha male is the dominant male of a pack. In no aspect should a male dominate a female and vice versa. Women become the underdogs, because in the sports world, media puts men up on a pedestal and male athletes are glorified at every corner. Women deserve the same respect and media exposure as men. Before Title IX and even after it, thanks to the media, sports were often seen as a showcase for men’s dominance and masculinity. Well the media and those hypnotized by it need to wake up. Women may not be the strongest, fastest or most powerful humans in the world, but we are strong, we are powerful, and we are fast. Instead of having one gender dominating the other because of any differences, our differences should be embraced, whether a man is more powerful or whether a woman is more aesthetically appealing; it should not affect what the sports media chooses to put out for the world to see, because equality is what we need to see.  Once the media sees, accepts, and exposes that to the world, that’ll be the grand slam of all women’s rights movements.

Works Cited

“alpha female.”’s 21st Century Lexicon., LLC. 29 Nov. 2012. < female>.

Duncan, Margaret C., and Michael A. Messner. “The Media Image of Sport and Gender.” Mediasport. By Lawrence A. Wenner. London: Routledge, 1998. N. pag. Print.

Heywood, Leslie, and Shari L. . Dworkin. “Powered Up or Dreaming?” Built to Win. Minneapolis (Minn.): University of Minnesota, 2003. N. pag. Print.

Heywood, Leslie, and Shari L. . Dworkin. “Sport as the Stealth Feminism of the Third Wave.” Built to Win. Minneapolis (Minn.): University of Minnesota, 2003. N. pag. Print.

Person, Erik F. “United States Sports Academy America’s Sports University.” Gender Bias in American Sports: Lack of Opportunity, Lack of Administrative Positions and Lack of Coverage in Women’s Sports. United States Sports Academy, 2002-2010. Web. 27 Nov. 2012. <;.

Written for Carmen Nolte-Odhiambo’s ENG 100: Composition I

sulaToni Morrison is known for her talent as a literary activist. Through her novels, Morrison embraces the ability to encourage a much needed change within our society. She feels the need for us to accept the struggles of our ancestors. In doing so, it will help us to move forward while still remembering the past but not holding on to it. In this paper, I will aim to show how Morrison, in relation to her novel Sula, embraces the culture and struggles of her ancestors and directs it toward the need for a change. To start, I will discuss how Morrison recollects the past of her people within her novel. The work exposes numerous issues that haunt many African-Americans. She uncovers the hardships of the black man and its impact on the African woman, the struggles between mothers and daughters, and the strong use of judgement toward someone who goes against the norm and doesn’t give in to the stereotypes that society has placed on them. In addition, I will lay forth the ideas of Susan Neal Mayberry and a partnership between Diane Gillespie and Missy Dehn Kubitscheck and how they perceive the struggles of both African-American males and females. Next, I will expose Karen F. Stein along with Barbara Lounsberry and Grace Ann Hovet to support this idea. By showing the past struggles of African-Americans and giving them a voice to why and how they became that way, Toni Morrison successfully embraces social activism in her writings by encouraging us to accept these flaws and in return allowing room for growth within our society without the need for the “other”.

Although many people feel that the injustice toward black males has stopped after slavery, Morrison captures the oppression that continued to linger long after. In an article by Susan Neal Mayberry she says, “Everyone knows, deep down, that black men were emasculated by white men (Mayberry, 518)”. Black males struggled with societies view of needing to provide for their family. Although the majority of them were hard workers, they would lose out on jobs to the white males solely because of their race. This would leave the black men feeling like their manhood had been taken from them. They started to feel depressed and discouraged. As an outlet of anger, black men would turn to the mistreatment of the black females; mostly their wives. Mayberry states, “Morrison evaluates the position of the black woman in America as having been for years a scapegoat for black male frustration and rage (Mayberry, 518)”. Not only would their frustration lead to abuse, but also to alcoholism, to drug addiction, and to abandoning their family. In Sula, we are shown the effects of addiction through the character Plum. He was the favorite child, but because of the pressures from society he became addicted to heroin. When his mother found out, she did what in her eyes was right and burned him to death. The reason for the burning, was to cleanse him. The symbolism of burning something is to purify it. By burning Plum, she felt that she was helping him as a form of rebirth or a new start.

Boyboy is another example of a black male that had to endure similar issues. He was an African-American male who was married to Eva. He underwent many hardships, working for a white man. Before he left Eva, the story explains that they didn’t have a happy marriage. Morrison writes, “He did whatever he could that he liked, and he liked womanizing best, drinking second, and abusing Eva third (Morrison, 32)”. Because he dealt with the stress of being a black man working for a white man, he began to feel inferior. He turned to drinking to help ease the pain he felt, and he turned to womanizing and abusing Eva to make himself still feel like a man. By having power over someone in his life, he didn’t feel completely useless. Morrison wanted to give a voice to the black male.

Before we judge the actions of the black males, she wants us to first think about why they acted out like this. In an article by Rita A. Bergenholtz, she quotes Morrison saying, “I don’t want to give my readers something to swallow. I want to give them something to feel and think about (Bergenholtz, 90)”. Morrison is insinuating that she doesn’t want the reader to just read her stories and automatically judge the characters based off what they did. She wants her audience to be able to realize that there is more to them. In an article by Diane Gillespie and Missy Dehn Kubitscheck it states, “In her postulation of two very different gender-determined visions of the self, Chodorow concludes that ‘masculine personality…comes to be defined more in terms of denial of relation and connection (Gillespie and Kubitscheck, 24)”. What these authors are stating is that males feel the need to be masculine and with that comes the desire to be an individual apart from female presence. They also mention that, “Because boys must successfully separate from the mother, individuation becomes the overriding  issue in the development of masculine identity, while connection and involvement with others are denied (Gillespie and Kubitscheck, 25)”. Males learn at a young age that they shouldn’t attach themselves to a female or else they lose their masculine identity. This idea starts at a young age, in which they try to break away from any close relationship with their mothers. The thought then branches to their relationships with other women. They aren’t able to stay with them, unless they feel in charge. This means that they are financially able to provide for their wife and family. Like Boyboy, many other African-American males at the time failed to do so and left their wives.

Problems not only stem from being in a marriage, but also losing in touch with their culture. After coming back from war, Shadrack loses everything. Morrison writes, “He is alienated, ‘with no past, no language, no tribe, no source, no address book…’ (10). The community recognizes his distance by considering him crazy. Rather than attempting to understand his struggles and the reason why Shadrack went crazy, they take the easy way out by labeling him as the other. Morrison wants her readers to realize that when a person gets stripped of their culture and belongings, it is traumatizing. Gillespie and Kubitscheck write that Shadrack was, “ ‘a grave black face’ unconnected to anyone else, he alone of the male characters ‘struggle[s] to order and focus experience’ and in so doing stakes out ‘a place for fear’ so that he can control it (Gillespie and Kubitscheck, 26)”. By creating “National Suicide Day”, Shadrack has control over an aspect in his life. The holiday becomes widely recognized within the community, therefore making Shadrack feel less like the other. He uses that day to feel like a regular being within the community; like he is a part of something. No one is excluded from  participating in “National Suicide Day”. This feeling helps to dispel the notion that he is now the “other” or the outcast within Bottom. By knowing this, we can say that Shadrack is not crazy, but rather he is lost and just attempting to find his self; his culture identity.

Not only does Morrison not want us to automatically judge the men of that time, but also understand what their actions do to the black woman. Gillespie and Kubitscheck claim that, “Childlike in the vulnerability of their dependence and consequent fear of abandonment, they claim to wish only to please, but in return for their goodness they expect to be loved and cared for (Gillespie and Kubitscheck, 31)”. They are suggesting that women realize many husbands leave their wives, so during the marriage their goal is to please their husband. Since they have a fear of being abandoned by their husbands, they commit to being the caring of their spouse; in return, all they want is to be loved and cared for. If a male does decide to leave (which most times they did), women automatically jump into the leadership and provider roles. From this, most women like Eva tend to strongly dislike their former spouse. In an article by Barbara Lounsberry and Grace Ann Hovet they say, “She doesn’t know what to feel when he returns, but suddenly finds the answer in ‘hate’ (Lounsberry and Hovet, 127)”. By Eva having hate for her husband, she is unable to move on out of this cycle. According to Gillespie and Kubitscheck, “Women developing this ethic of care progress through three stages, which are characterized by unique definitions of moral responsibility to others (Gillespie and Kubitscheck, 28)”. These steps  characterize how she will live her life. These steps include, “First, an unsocialized state, her primary concern is survival. Second, she selflessly immerses herself in other people…Selfishness is equated with immorality. Third, a woman includes responsibilities to herself as well as others (Gillespie and Kubitscheck, 28)”. These actions are demonstrated within the novel, Sula. When Eva’s husband, Boyboy, leaves her and their family, she is forced to be strong and provide for her  children. Gillespie and Kubitscheck state that, “Eva gives of herself, literally, to secure food for her children (Gillespie and Kubitscheck, 31)”. Eva works a lot to be able to feed and care for her children. Her first instinct as a mother is the will to survive. This will also branches out to her children. The relationship between a mother and her children is very strong. The mother invests numerous hours committed to the caring for her children.

The relationship between a mother and daughter is an important point within the  novel because Morrison wants to give a voice to why women were used to living the way they did. Not only does Morrison want us to stop the judging if someone was a good mother or not, we must first recollect their history and understand how they came to be. Within the novel, we are exposed to a cycle that happened a lot within that time period. The daughters would follow in the footsteps of their mothers. We are shown the relationship between Helene Wright and her daughter Nel. Both did not want to turn out like their mothers. Helene was raised to always be on guard. Because of this, when she had entered through the wrong way on the train, she was called out for doing so. The men on the train looked at Helene with hatred. Morrison states, “She resolved to be on guard- always. She wanted to make certain that no man ever looked at her that way (Morrison, 22)”. She would now have her guard up, so that no one could look at her as being inferior because she was a strong woman. Nel made several attempts to stray away from following in her mother’s footsteps. Nel said, “I’m me. I’m not their daughter, I’m not Nel. I’m me. Me. (Morrison 28)”. She tries to break away from being identified as her mother’s daughter and be classified as herself. She wants to be able to write her own history, rather than have her mother’s past become her future. She failed to do so as she followed her mother’s path. Barbara Lounsberry and Grace Ann hovet address this by saying, “Nel’s vows are ultimately as futile as her mother’s…Nel reverts to her mother’s rigid middle-class morality: marrying, living for her children, working hard as a cleaning woman for ‘respectability’, and visiting old people at the close of her life as a ‘good church woman’ (Lounsberry and Hovet, 126)”. This cycle of following their mothers’ footsteps were hard because that is all they knew and what society expected out of them. This cycle stemmed from generation to generation because that is how women were brainwashed to be by the many poor examples before them.

Another relationship that is depicted within this novel is between Sula and Nel. In an article by Susan F. Stein she states, “To Nel, Sula brings not only loss and pain, but also, even after her death, and enlarged self-awareness…She comes to realize that caution had led her to accept limitations too readily and that moral smugness had blinded her to her own potential for evil (Stein, 149)”. Ever since they were young, Nel had always seen Sula as negatively as society does. Sula was different than your normal female who lived in the Bottom. Everyone in town saw Sula as being evil or bad luck. This idea started when they were children and Sula had accidentally let go of Chicken Little’s hand causing him to drown and die. Following this incident, Sula watched her mom, Hannah, burn to death. Although Nel was friends with Sula, she still judged her based on these events. Stein says, “Believing herself morally superior to Sula, Nel realizes later her own complicity in Chicken Little’s death…Sula’s grandmother Eva confuses her with Sula and asserts that she was involved in the drowning (Stein, 149)”. This claim upsets Nel, because she believed she had not committed any crime. Stein continues to say, “She has always been careful to think she saw him drown; with Eva’s challenge she acknowledges to herself that she watched and even experienced a secret excitement (Stein, 149)”. Stein pin points a major issue within the story. The whole time Nel was judging Sula because of the things she had done, but didn’t realize Sula wasn’t the only one. By Eva accusing Nel of being involved in the drowning of Chicken Little, she comes to realize that her and Sula aren’t that different after all. Nel finally admits at the end that she was wrong and that she was just as guilty as Sula was. She always viewed it as Sula’s fault because her hand had physically let Chicken Little go. All that time, she didn’t realize that it wasn’t the only act that was important, but also the fact that she stood there and watched. Stein points out this difference between seeing something happen, and actually watching something being done. The fact that Nel got somewhat excited shows that you can’t be too quick to judge someone because little did she know that there was evil lurking inside of her as well. She also shouldn’t have turned her back on her friend and given in to societies procedure of claiming that she was the “other”.

Morrison does a great job at capturing the realness and history of her ancestors. By showing the past struggles of African-Americans and giving them a voice, we are able to stop judging them for what they did. Many view the African-American fathers as being low-life dead beats, but this text helps us to view them in a much more authentic light. Morrison teaches what one for the most part fails to learn in a normal school curriculum. We automatically were taught to view them as the “other” (an outcast). This idea is also presented in the struggles that women face as a result of their husbands leaving them. We know it is hard for them, but most don’t realize truly the amount of work they invest in providing and caring for their families.   Also, what a lot of people misunderstand is how the actions of the parents greatly effect the children. Most times, this type of behavior and lifestyle is passed on through generations because that is the example that was given to them. Lastly, judging people and causing them to be the other because of the way others perceive them is wrong. With the acceptance of our ancestors’ past along with our own history, we will be able to learn from them and move on with our lives. In relation to accepting the past, we will no long feel the need to force the role of the other on someone just because society doesn’t agree with their actions and beliefs. By learning the struggles that our ancestors were faced with, we will be able to grow and become stronger as a result.

Works Cited

Bergenholtz, Rita Allan. “Toni Morrison’s Sula: A Satire on Binary Thinking.” African American Review 30.1 (1996): 89-98. JSTOR. Web. 1 May 2012. <>.

Gillespie, Diane, and Missy Dehn Kubitscheck. “Who Cares? Women-Centered Psychology in Sula.” American Literature Forum 24.1 (1990): 21-48. JSTOR. Web. 1 May 2012. <>.

Lounsberry, Barbara, and Grace Ann Hovet. “Principles of Perception in Toni Morrison’s Sula.” Black American Literature Forum 13.4 (1979): 126-29. St. Louis       University, 2000. Web. 8 Apr. 2012. <>.

Mayberry, Susan Neal. “Something Other than a Family Quarrel: The Beautiful Boys in Morrison’s “Sula”” African American Review 37.4 (2003): 517-33. St. Louis University, 2003. Web. 8 Apr. 2012. <>.

Written for Prof. Amy Nishimura’s ENG 440: Major Author

immigrateI called my dad and asked him if I could interview him about the history that brought him to the United States for a class paper, a subject I knew was a sensitive one for him.  I heard him sigh and then fall into silence.  I could picture him furrowing his dark brows above his green eyes, rubbing his temples with his calloused hands, trying to make up his mind.   After what seemed like forever, he said that I could interview him.  I asked if he was sure, and he said yes.  A couple of days later I called him again and asked him if he was ready for the interview, he said he was.  I could tell by his tone of voice that it was something that he wasn’t thrilled about.  I began by asking him about his childhood growing up in Petrifeld, Romania, which is today known as Petresti.  He began telling me about the little German community he grew up in and of different events during his childhood.  I could tell he was trying to prepare himself to talk about the more serious things coming up.  After talking for a little while he got quiet and I knew he was about to begin telling me about the events that led up to him coming to the United States.

It was a story that I had only heard once before in my life, by accident, when I was ten.  I overheard my dad telling some family friends about how and why he came to America.  As I was intently listening, he saw my shadow on the wall and caught me eavesdropping.  He sent me off to bed and the next day asked if I had heard what he was talking about.  When I told him I did, he sat me down and explained to me why he did what he did.  He told me about Romania being a communist country at that time, what that meant, and how hard it was living there during that time.  I never asked him about it again, but over the years as I’ve gotten older, he has talked more and more about his childhood growing up in Romania.

As my dad was talking, his voice changed from a happier tone from when he was telling me about his childhood and memories he had of his parents, brothers, and sister, to a more serious tone.  I could again picture his face; his expression was serious, matching his tone of voice.  He began by telling me how when he turned eighteen he was required to serve in the army.  He went on for awhile telling me about the training he did in the army as if trying to avoid talking about what I knew would be coming up.  He then told me that it was during his time spent in the army that he decided he wanted to get out of Romania.  With anger in his voice he said, “The government controlled your life.  They told you what you could and could not do and when.  I got tired of it.  I saw how hard your Oma and Opa had it; I didn’t want to live like that.”  He decided that once he served his time in the army he was going to figure out a way to get out of Romania.

His voice then changed to an almost ominous, dark sounding tone, his accent seemed to get even stronger and more pronounced as he told me about how he escaped Romania.  “I didn’t know what else to do.  All I knew was that I couldn’t stay so I told my family goodbye and headed off around midnight.”  I asked him how his parents felt about him leaving.   “They were worried but they wanted me to have a better life then what they had there.  We had relatives in Germany and that’s where they wanted me to go”, he said.

Once he got near the Romanian boarder, he stayed out in the woods near the Danube River until the next night.  He then said, “After it got dark I ran to the river jumped in and began swimming until I reached the other side.  I was terrified the whole time but all I could think about was freedom.  I had friends that had been shot by the police swimming that same river, to try and escape Romania, to get to freedom.”  I was shocked!  This was a part of the story either I had not heard when I was younger or that he left out while talking to his friends that night.  “You crossed knowing that other people got shot doing the same thing”, I asked?  He said, “Yes.  You always heard about people trying to cross the border and getting shot.  One of my friends that had been shot crossing a few months before I did, died from the bullet wound.  All that I could think about as I was swimming to get to the other side was him.”  I couldn’t believe what I had just heard.  My dad could have been shot and killed trying to swim that river to get out of Romania.

He then told me about how once he made it across the Danube River into Hungary, he was arrested for coming into the country illegally and spent a few weeks in jail.  When he was released, he started to make his way across Hungary toward the Austrian border.  He lived in a little village for a few months working as a carpenter and trying to save up some money for the rest of his journey.  When he thought he had enough money, he continued making his way across Hungary and made it to the Austrian border where he again crossed illegally and spent more time in jail.  After he was released from jail a second time, he spent a month in Austria working and hitch hiking here and there to make his way to the border to cross into Germany.  Once he made it, he crossed the border into Germany and proved his German heritage, he was given a German passport.  His voice sounded like a weight had been lifted off his shoulders as he began talking:

“I was so happy when I made it into Germany, I couldn’t believe that I had made it.  I knew that I could possibly die during that journey, but I wanted to be free.  I wanted to have a better future than I would have been able to in Romania.  I wanted to be able to express my own thoughts and opinions without worrying about getting arrested or worse, being killed.  I didn’t want to have to live with the government controlling my life no matter the cost.”

My father then started working here and there in Germany where he lived with relatives for a few years before deciding to come to America to pursue work.  He landed in Dallas, Texas in August of 1984 barely speaking English.  He made friends with a Hungarian couple that owned an auto shop and began working for them while doing construction on the side  My father became well known in the Dallas and Fort Worth area’s for his beautiful handmade cabinets and other woodwork and eventually became a very successful general contractor with his own business that he still runs today.  My dad ended with saying:

“I would have never gotten as far as I have today if I had stayed in Romania.  I may have done it illegally, which I am not proud of, but that was the only way to get out then.  The government would have told me where I was going to work and that would have been it, there would been no questioning it.  You had no freedom living there.  You couldn’t decide what was best for you; you had to do what the government told you to do.  You couldn’t protest against them or horrible things would happen.  You were trapped.  It was hard growing up there, but it also shaped me and made me the hard worker that I am today.”

Hearing this story for a second time when I am old enough to actually understand what my dad went through made me feel kind of sad.  It’s hard to think that someone would be so desperate to get out of a country that they would risk their life doing it, especially when it is one of your parents.  I do feel as if he may have left some things out of his story, things that he didn’t want me to know.  Maybe someday he will feel comfortable telling me some more details about growing up in Romania and his journey here.   My dad is a very hard worker and has always pushed my brother and I to do our best in everything.  Sometimes he seemed like such a hard person and my brother and I often did not see eye to eye with him, but I now know that the way he grew up and the things that he has done and seen have a lot to do with that.  He has always wanted the best for us and more than what he had growing up.  He went through a lot and worked really hard to get to where he is today and I respect and look up to him a lot for that.  I feel as if by him telling me his story it has made our relationship with each other closer.  His story makes me take a step back and realize how good I have had it growing up.  It will always remind me to be thankful for what I have because there are always others who are worse off; it reminds me of just how blessed I truly am.

Works Cited

Wonhas, Stefan.  Personal interview.  13 Oct. 2012.

Written for Cara Chang’s ENG 200: Composition II

the_bluest_eyeAt the beginning of the semester, our class was tasked with naming as many novels as we could from the approved list of the literary canon. After completing the exercise, there were a few things that stood out from the list: the unevenness between the White men to women ratio, and  the lack of African American authors. As a female African American author, Toni Morrison goes against the grain and challenges us as readers to actively question the status quo by blurring the line between binarisms. In order to achieve this, Morrison conjures up feelings of compassion for the Breedloves by giving us a glimpse into their past. She shows a progression of how their personalities developed into their present states, which makes it difficult to judge them as either solely “good” or “bad.” In her novel, The Bluest Eye, Morrison deconstructs the “Master Narrative” by presenting an ideal standard of beauty and the damaging ripple effect of destruction it can have on a black family subjected to its unyielding rigidity over multiple generations.

Morrison shows how the Master Narrative affects those who don’t fit in as the victim (mainly through Pecola), how those exposed to it not only experience racism but also perpetuate the tradition through feelings of self-loathing (through Pauline and Cholly), and finally how people can fight against it (through Claudia). Although Pecola Breedlove is one of the main characters of the novel, The Bluest Eye is narrated by her peer, Claudia. One of the ways Morrison undoes the idea of the Master Narrative is allowing Claudia to be the voice of the novel. Since she rejects the Master Narrative as the only standard for beauty, she can be interpreted as the lone voice of reason amongst a brainwashed community. As such, one of the ways hegemony is displayed is through the lack of voice in minority narratives and Morrison illustrates this through Pecola’s lack of dialogue. The few speaking parts she does have make her questions more poignant because the only time she calls attention to herself with her voice is after she starts “ministratin” (31) and discovers that she’s able to create life. When she hears that you first need to be loved in order to make a baby, Pecola then vocalizes a question that she struggles to answer throughout the entire novel, “how do you get someone to love you” (32)? She speaks again time near the end of the novel when she asks for blue eyes from Soaphead Church after she determines that white skin and blue eyes are the standards of beauty and easiest to love. All the other times in between she tries her hardest not call attention to herself and in fact, aims to be invisible.

From the opening pages of the novel, characters are forced to deal with the hegemonic ideal that is impossible to live up to, especially by anyone not born white. Morrison illustrates the ideal standard of beauty with the simple sentence structure of the well-known “Dick and Jane” stories. From a young age, children use these words to practice how to read, but Morrison points out that they also become ingrained as a heteronormative mantra of acceptable behavior. “Family” is comprised of “Mother, Father, Dick, and Jane (who live) in the green and white house ” (1) with two pets: a cat and a dog. Dick and Jane’s family doesn’t account for the possibility of only having one mother and no father, or vice-versa. Neither does it address the possibility of having two fathers or two mothers, or worse yet, no parents at all. For this particular story, it focuses mainly on Jane which can directly be applied to how her life differs from the main character, Pecola Breedlove. Unlike Pecola, Jane has a plethora of options to choose from for attention. Her pet cat, her “nice, laughing” mother, her “big, strong, smiling” father, her pet dog, and her friend (who apparently miraculously sensed her loneliness and came over to play in nick of time). On the other hand, Pecola doesn’t wear red dresses and is shunned by her family and peers because she has an “ugliness that made her ignored or despised at school, by teachers and classmates alike” (45). By using the Dick and Jane stories to begin her novel, Morrison goes on to repeat Jane’s quest for a playmate over and over like a broken record until the words are no longer separated by spaces or punctuation and they form an undistinguishable mass. This action suggests that the Master Narrative is such a forced hegemonic ideal that it doesn’t leave much room for any type of variation.

The Master Narrative relates back to the construction of the American Literary Canon because it, too, is a type of standard that doesn’t leave much room for diversity. In her literary criticism, Playing in the Dark, Morrison highlights “canonical American literature […] unshaped by the four-hundred-year-old presence of, first, Africans and then African Americans” (5). In the novels that do have African American characters, their makeup is questionable, at best. She charges that “race has become metaphorical- a way of referring to and disguising forces, events, classes, and expressions of social decay and economic division far more threatening to the body politic than biological ‘race’ ever was” (63). Jim, a runaway slave created by Mark Twain has a “limitless store of love […] for his white friend and white masters” (56), as well as the “assumption that the whites are indeed […] superior and adult” (56). Morrison points out that this is problematic because Twain doesn’t spend time evolving his character for readers to see his human development. In other words, it’s impossible to relate to him as a fellow human being because he is presented as a sidekick to Huck’s grand adventure. He could be any black character since he’s only identified as a runaway slave. Jim’s presence is there to illustrate Huck’s personal development; Huck functions as the subject and Jim is an object.

In order to undo the way African Americans were treated as sidekicks in canonical American Literature, Morrison makes Pecola’s struggle as a little black girl trying to fit in with the white aesthetic of beauty the subject of The Bluest Eye. Pecola Breedlove and her family’s way of dealing with being black in a predominantly white America is the source of most of their dysfunction even if they’re unable to completely recognize it as such. Pecola thinks that having blue eyes (and light skin) will solve all of her problems because she equates blue eyes with “good” and her dark ones as “evil.” As with the Dick and Jane story, Morrison chooses to highlight two episodes that parallel each other and illustrates Pecola’s obsession with the white aesthetic. The first one is when Pecola drinks three quarts of milk and sends Claudia and Frieda’s mother into a ranting tizzy. Claudia notes that Pecola was “fond of the Shirley Temple cup and took every opportunity to drink milk out of it just to handle and see sweet Shirley’s face” (23). Although Claudia doesn’t spend much time on this instance and seems to make the comment in passing, given the context, the observation carries a lot more weight. Claudia’s mother made a big deal about how selfish it was of Pecola to drink so much milk, but I don’t think it mattered so much to Pecola what kind of liquid the cup contained. To Pecola, Shirley Temple, like Dick and Jane, was her model that defined the heternomative and she wanted that for herself. As Emma Parker suggests in her article,

 “[h]er sense of worthlessness is metaphorically represented as emptiness, as thirst, and she attempts to find meaning in her life, to fill herself, by imbibing white cultural values. The danger in this is first intimated when her love of the cup induces her to greedily drink most of the milk, thus depriving other members of the household, and ultimately culminates in Pecola’s descent into insanity” (616).

Although it wasn’t mentioned in this way, as was drinking the liquid from the Shirley Temple cup, Pecola was probably imagining consuming its contents would make her become Shirley Temple. Not only does she desire to look like Shirley Temple, but she tries to consume her persona to fuse with hers.  This assertion is supported by the second time she tried to consume white beauty by eating the Mary Jane penny candy. Although she had an “array of candies” (48) to choose from, she decides on the Mary Janes. “Each wrapper has a picture […] of little Mary Jane, for whom the candy is named. Smiling white face. Blond hair in gentle disarray, blue eyes […] To eat the candy is somehow to eat the eyes, eat Mary Jane. […] Be Mary Jane” (50). Again, Pecola tries to “eat” Mary Jane’s image in order to take on the physical characteristics society has deemed “beautiful.”

Attempting to consume white standards of beauty is the method Pecola has chosen to respond to the Master Narrative because she lacks guidance from her parents who are just as negatively entrenched by it as well. To emphasize the pervasive influence of the Master Narrative, Morrison again uses the  section from the Dick and Jane story to mark the beginning of each chapter. Where the Breedloves live is offset by the Dick and Jane’s house that’s described as “green and white with a red door” and “pretty” (33). In contrast, the Breedloves live in a makeshift home that once functioned as a store. We find out later that they made their home out of the store because they “were poor and black, and they stayed there because they believed they were ugly” (38). This quote suggests that the Master Narrative didn’t only affect Pecola as a young impressionable girl, but had a more widespread damaging effect on her family as well. No one person or experience convinces them that they’re ugly, but  through many years of being treated poorly (like Cholly’s first sexual encounter with a girl being sullied by a couple of white men who humiliate him by making him feel inhuman and calling him a “coon” (149)) and being looked down upon (through Pauline’s failed attempts at striving to measure up to the white aesthetic displayed through popular culture despite her handicapped foot) caused them to slowly believe that it must be true. Initially, Pecola’s parents are portrayed as the exact opposite of Dick and Jane’s parents who seem to be the personification of everything positive, so it’s natural as a reader to immediately think of Pecola’s parents as bad. Pecola’s father is portrayed as a drunk, her mother as an antagonist, and they fight with each other all the time. By clearly setting up the binarism of good/bad, acceptable/unacceptable, Morrison then undoes it  by allowing Claudia to give Pauline and Cholly’s back-story to show that they were not born that way. Through their separate experiences of the Master Narrative, they allowed it to become a part of their lives, similar to the way they allowed themselves to “wear their ugliness” (38).

The problem the Breedloves face are consistent with Morrison’s contention in Playing in the Dark with her point that “blackness can be evil and protective, rebellious and forgiving, fearful and desirable” (59), instead of usually replacing “and” with “or” African Americans don’t only exist on a polarized spectrum of good or bad, nice or mean, and so on. Often times, like everyone else, they fall into a gray area, where they are sometimes good and sometimes bad. To only see the world in only extremes severely cripples the individual and ultimately affects humanity. With this novel, Morrison seems to be trying to show the entire spectrum of people’s makeup and relay to the reader that one action doesn’t completely define who they are. Rather, it’s what happens to them over the course of an extended period of time that shapes them into who they eventually become. Chances are you only see a snapshot of who the individual is and labeling them as “good” or “evil” is not all-encompassing. She especially illustrates this through Pecola’s parents, Cholly and Pauline, who are the victims and perpetrators of hegemonic ideals .

Like her daughter, Pauline Breedlove falls victim to the pressures of the Master Narrative. Although our first glimpse of her is that of a bitter, confrontational woman who picks a verbal argument with her husband first thing in the morning (40), Morrison spends time undoing our negative first impression by stripping away her hard exterior as an adult and exposing her as a young girl to be an insecure daydreamer who struggles with the same pressures with the white aesthetic as her daughter. An injury she received from a young age left her foot deformed and she allowed its perceived ugliness to eventually shape her life. After marrying Cholly, they moved to a new area where women were more concerned about their physical appearance and she was exposed to movie stars on the silver screen. Rather than trying to consume their beauty like her daughter, Pauline tried to fit in by wearing high heels, which made her handicap much more pronounced. As Malin LaVon Walther  pointed out in her article, “in trying to conform to the ‘look’ of a white movie star, Pauline has denied the fundamental physical reality of her body. She is black and pregnant, and has no physical characteristics to identify her with” (778). Her feelings of inadequacy began to seep into other areas of her life, it began to sour her once happy marriage, and eventually mutated it into the violent, angry mess described when we first met the Breedloves in the store. By showing us her history and progression of self-loathing into adulthood, Morrison cultivates sympathy for Pauline by giving insight to her difficult life. Pauline blamed a lot of being on the receiving end of discrimination and experienced isolation because of her limp and chipped tooth, but Pauline failed to fully realize that she only felt ugly because she failed at fitting into the accepted standard of beauty. Although she loves her children, she is unable to love them completely because they have her dark skin and brown eyes. She doesn’t love her own self so it’s impossible for her to love her offspring, Pecola and Sammy. She finds a job babysitting white children and treats them better than her own. The majority of her back story is italicized which symbolize an inner monologue of thoughts that she has with herself. Consistent with the idea of minorities having a lack of voice, she learns to internalize what she thinks and how she feels so none of her experience gets articulated to her children. All they see of her is an angry, spiteful woman who prefers to spend time with the white families she cleans and they can only assume that she loves her own family less because there’s something wrong with them. They have no clue about her own feelings of self-loathing, but it gets inherited anyway through the example she sets by preferring the white children over them and by being exposed to white standards of beauty throughout their culture.

Unlike Pauline, who lives in her own world of order and service to the white aesthetic, Cholly Breedlove is a lot more complex. In the early pages of the novel, we find out that he has raped and impregnated his daughter Pecola, tried to burn down their home, and was depicted as a “dog” (17) and a “drunk” (40). An immediate reaction to all of these charges would be horror and to tack on another label like “monster,” but Morrison shows that although his actions were wrong, he made them with skewed intentions. He was so damaged by the time he raped Pecola, from being abandoned by his mother and dehumanized by a group of white men, he did it to remember what it was like to feel something. It was noted near the end of the novel that Cholly was the only one who loved Pecola “enough to touch her” (206). In the closing pages, it’s implied that contrary to popular belief, love is not always a “good” thing. It depends on the person and their collective experiences that define what it means. For Cholly, he didn’t really have much of an experience or understanding of what love was because he was mistreated all his life. When he tried to love his daughter, he did it in the best way he knew how so it’s difficult to judge his actions.

Morrison undoes whether or not Cholly is a “good” or “bad” person by unraveling Cholly’s painful history, which begs the question of who is there to blame. Should Cholly be blamed for Pecola’s pain? If so, then who is to be blamed for his pain? The pain that came before him? Morrison points out that the issue is much more complex because fault goes further and much deeper than just a few generations. The motives that governed his actions were far removed from the ones that governed Claudia and her sister’s decision to “make a miracle” and sacrifice the money they would’ve received from the seeds by planting them instead. Symbolically, the seeds also figuratively represented Cholly’s sperm, so I think the impulses run parallel. From a young age, Cholly was so ignored and unimportant, he was free to be his own person. Freedom is one of the founding principles of our nation and it is never used with a negative connotation. After his Aunt Jimmy dies, he no longer has anyone to look out for him. For awhile he makes it his purpose to find his father because I think he’s the only thing that ties him to this world. However, when he finally confronts him, Cholly is unable to articulate why he travelled all that way to see him and the man dismisses him. Now without anything or anyone to ground him, Cholly freedom is crippling to him because he’s truly alone in the world. “free even to die, the how and the when of which held no interest for him…Abandoned in a junk heap by his mother, rejected for a crap game by his father, there was nothing more to lose” (160). The freedom had an adverse effect on him, instead of liberating him, it made him more invisible. None of his actions seemed to ever have any consequence because no one cared enough to react to them. So when he saw his daughter standing at the sink and scratched her foot with her toe the way Pauline did when he first met her long ago, he reacted to what he saw since “his reactions were based on what he felt at the time” (161). He was so detached from life because of his freedom, he wasn’t able to understand how morally wrong it was to rape his own daughter. Similarly, for Claudia and her sister, “nobody paid us any attention, so very good attention to ourselves” (191), the only audience they had was themselves so they impulsively did what they wanted to do at the time, which was try to help Pecola as much as they could. Morrison makes it difficult to judge either acts when she illustrates how arbitrarily those actions were decided upon. More so from Cholly’s perspective, she spent time on developing his character from a sweet, caring boy who loved eating watermelon (134) and tried to retie Darlene’s ribbon to help prevent her from getting “whupped” by her mother for getting dirty. (146) He evolved into an impulsive murderer of white men (159) and father who raped his daughter (163).

The final example of how Morrison undoes the Master Narrative is through Claudia, who seems to be the only character that has any voice, whatsoever. As the narrator of the novel, her perspective is mixed with a child’s honesty and an overarching clarity that only comes in hindsight after living through certain experiences.  Claudia is confronted with the same pressures of the Master Narrative as Pecola, but unlike her, Claudia goes against the grain and questions its authority over her life. One Christmas, she receives a “blue-eyed Baby Doll” (20) and destroys it. Although she is unable to clearly articulate why she did it, other than because it disgusted her, like the Dick and Jane story, the doll was a physical representation of the Master Narrative. The adults not only gave her a prescribed standard of what was consider “beautiful,” but also began to try and groom her for the expectation of her gender role: motherhood. Although Claudia admits that she does learn to “worship” (23) iconic figures like Shirley Temple much later on in her life, she’s able to see the pervasiveness of the white aesthetic from a very young age and have enough strength to question its existence. As she narrates the ending of the novel, we learn from Claudia that Pecola believes that she has obtained blue eyes because she has lost her mind. Through her clear perspective of hindsight as an adult looking back, Claudia is able to articulate that ironically, Pecola was the one who made others feel “beautiful” when they “stood astride her ugliness” (205). This idea implies that she became a pariah who absorbed the entire community’s feeling of self-loathing and at the expense of her own sanity and well-being, helped to lighten the load of the white aesthetic.

I maintain that the novel’s conclusion, albeit a sad one (for Pecola), ended with a bit of hope (for the community). Pecola’s  presence “on the edge of town, where you can see her even now, once in a while” (205) serves as reminder for people to never forget her story. Although she no longer has her sanity, to her understanding her eyes were made blue by Soaphead Church’s magic, and logically speaking she should now be “beautiful.” Ironically, her blue eyes are not enough and make her more invisible than ever. Her constant paranoia about her eyes cause a physical and psychological break from reality until she finally takes up residence on the periphery of civilization. On a wider scale, the people of Lorain can see Pecola and see a little bit of themselves in her, all of her blackness and vulnerability as a fellow human being. In Playing in the Dark, Morrison asserts that she is “interested in… the strategies for maintaining the silence and the strategies for breaking it” (51). As she later points out that African Americans were noticeably absent from the pages of American literature, and their history made up a plethora of untapped knowledge. By making an African American family’s struggle to live up to the impossibly high standards of the white aesthetic the subject of an entire novel, she ensures that we as readers won’t overlook their experiences or forget them. Morrison causes readers to feel sympathy for Cholly’s character despite knowing that what he did was morally wrong. In this way, she deconstructs our socially constructed way of binary thinking on more complicated issues of rape and cultural hegemony which make this novel impossible to forget. Although it may be too late for Pecola, the reader can feel hope at the end of the novel knowing that healing can only come about when you are able to remember and articulate the past in order to move forward with your life. The Bluest Eye also serves as a reminder for others that an alternative to the white aesthetic exists.

Works Cited

Morrison, Toni. The Bluest Eye. New York: Vintage Books, 2007. Print.

Morrison, Toni. Playing in the Dark. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1992. Print.

Parker, Emma. “‘Apple Pie’ Ideology and the Politics of Appetite in the Novels of Toni Morrison.” Contemporary Literature, 39.4 (1998): 614-643. JSTOR. Web. 1 May 2012.

Walther, Malin LaVon. “Out of Sight: Toni Morrison’s Revision of Beauty.” Black American Literature Forum, 24.4 (1990): 775-789. JSTOR. Web. 1 May 2012.

Written for Prof. Amy Nishimura’s ENG 440: Major Author