Sunday, April 29, 2007

My English 202 Experience

I learned a lot this semester in English 202. I read so many stories that I felt were relevant in my life today, and realized that though the people and the times have changed the same problems and challenges still exist. I found that prejudice and hate follow no boundaries, but that only by changing yourself can you change those around you and stop the vicious cycle from continuing.
Some of my favorite stories to read were the ones in which I wrote essays on, "Desiree's Baby". "Barn Burning", and "Sweat. I identified with all of these stories. I also enjoyed "The White Heron", and thought it a beautiful story.
There are many pieces that I read that I did not enjoy because they hit close to home for me, or for someone in my family. "Sonny's Blues" is one of these because I felt it followed the course of someone close to my life.
I hope that others have learned as much from this class as I have. I am a better person for having read the stories of these incredible authors and learned from there insight.

The use of Religion and Symbolism in the Short Story Sweat.

I felt that this was my best essay to date because I spent so much time researching religious symbolism. I first became interested in symbolism with my first essay. I believe I went much more in depth in learning about the use of symbolism in this essay.

Alyssa D. Harrison
Literature 202
Evelyn Beck
April 7, 2007

The use of Religion and Symbolism in the Short Story Sweat.

Upon first reading Nora Neale Hurston’s short story Sweat, you immediately grasp that this is a story about an abusive marriage. When reflecting on the passages written, however you begin to see the many religious connotations involved throughout he writing. This story is fraught with religious symbolism, from the snake; to the clothes that Delia washes, to the garden she plants to the rising sun at the end of the story.

Symbolism plays a big part of this story and after analyzing the different symbols; they give the story a deeper meaning and can enlighten the reader as to the full meaning of "Sweat". The most apparent symbol in the story is the title, "Sweat". It is also mentioned in the story, "Looka heah, Sykes, you done gone too fur. Ah been married to you fur fifteen years, and Ah been takin' in washin' fur fifteen years. Sweat, sweat, sweat! Work and sweat, cry and sweat, pray and sweat" (1578). The "Sweat" is the product of Delia's hard work supporting them by taking in and washing the clothes of white people. It stands for her work ethic and how she has tried to make a living as best as she can, it is a driving force in her life.

Delia Jones is a hard working black woman in the deep South who lives with her husband’s relentless physical and emotional abuse. From the very beginning, Delia represents the aspect of good, showing diligence in her work, humbleness, and virtue. She goes to church, and places her faith, and her spiritual well being in the hands of God. She works hard taking in wash, and creating her own version of Eden around her home with her flower garden. Hurston whose father was a Baptist minister has deeply religious roots, as seen as she references Gethsemane (1578). She is looked upon by pity by the others in the community who know she is a good woman, and that Sykes is an abusive, and cheating husband. Lillie Howard makes the observation, that,” in several of Hurston's stories, the woman is strong, proud, independent; the man does not appreciate these strengths because he feels emasculated and dependent. Sykes attempts to prove his masculinity by cruelly abusing his wife.”[1]

Delia’s husband Sykes is the exact opposite of Delia in every sense of the word. Sykes Jones is a lazy husband who does not work, and lives off the earnings of his wife Delia who takes in clothes to wash supporting herself and Sykes. Sykes seems to oppose Delia in every word and action. He is physically and mentally abusive, and has had numerous extra-marital affairs that he takes great joy in flaunting in Delia’s face by spending money that his wife has earned on his lover. He makes her work harder for her by kicking over the freshly washed clothes, and mocking her efforts. He is non-spiritual, and has no morals, obviously representing the evil aspect of this story. While physically, Sykes is strong, and Delia is weak, her strength lies in her religious beliefs and tolerance of her husband and his brutal ways that prevail in the end. It could be said that in the end they reverse roles because Delia becomes strong in her resolve to let Sykes die by the snakebite that was meant for her, while Sykes becomes the weaker of the two.

Different objects and situations represent the influence of religion. The white clothes that Delia washes in the story are symbolic of her character representing her virtue as she tolerates Sykes’ torment humbly. The religious association of the snakes, and the bullwhip that Sykes uses to frighten Delia, represent the evil in the story. According to Thomas Stafford, who wrote Christian Symbolism in the Evangelical Church, “A serpent is the symbol of the fall of man through temptation by a serpent–the devil” (180). In two instances he uses these objects to terrorize Delia. The first instance is when he uses the bullwhip to scare Delia by rubbing it on her and making her think that it was a snake. Delia is deathly afraid of snakes, and Sykes knows this and takes delight in using this information to terrorize her. She says to him "Sykes, what you throw dat whip on me like dat? You know it would skeer me--looks just like a snake, an' you knows how skeered Ah is of snakes”(1577). The second instance is when he places a real rattlesnake just outside the door of their house with the sole intention of terrifying Delia. This could be seen as a biblical allusion just like Satan took the form of a snake in the story of Adam and Eve. It could be said that Sykes as the Devil was tempting Delia to leave her home. The snake is also seen as being the symbolism that illustrates Sykes as being the evil character. The name Sykes even has a snake-like sound to its pronunciation. Sykes is the snake, an abusive husband that cheats on Delia, and makes her life difficult. Delia is the representation of Good in the story.

The pattern of good vs. evil in this story winds down to a well-developed and appropriate conclusion. Sykes has been having an affair with an overweight black woman by the name of Bertha. He shows that he has no respect for his wife by flaunting the affair in front of her and in front of those in the town. He arrives at the local mercantile with Bertha while Delia is out delivering clothing, and begins ordering merchandise for her. Delia drives by at that moment giving Sykes a perverse pleasure in letting her see how he spends Delia’s hard earned money on his lover, “Git whutsoever yo' heart desires, Honey. Wait a minute, Joe. Give huh two bottles uh strawberry soda-water, uh quart uh parched ground-peas, an' a block uh chewin' gum”(1582 ). His flaunting of the affair with Bertha in front of Delia, as well as his intentional embarrassment of her in front of the townsfolk characterize the mental abuse by Sykes. Sykes' own abusive actions throughout the story wind up being his downfall.

Throughout the story Sykes tries to antagonize Delia to do something that will cause her leave. He purposely tries to scare her away from her home by placing a snake, which she is deathly, afraid of in a box on the front porch. When that doesn’t work, he places the snake in a hamper he knows that she will open with the hope that she will be bitten and killed. It could be said that God intervened when Delia narrowly misses being bitten by the snake, and flees the house. In the end, when the snake that Sykes uses to scare Delia, and attempts to kill her with bites him instead. The sun rises steadily during his dying process. This sunrise is symbolic of Delia’s virtue, and being victorious over all the negativity and evil that Sykes represents. Deila waits in her garden under the Chinaberry tree, representing her paradise, listening to Sykes dying moans from inside the house. When Sykes is dead, the sun has finally risen. The Sun is like the light of goodness shining in celebration of evil's death.

Works Cited
Howard, Lillie P. Concise Dictionary of American Literary Biography 51 Thompson
Gale 20, April 2007
Hurston, Zora Neale Sweat The Heath Anthology of American Literature. Ed. Paul Lauter et al. Vol D. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2006. 1577-1586.
Stafford, Thomas. Christian Symbolism in the Evangelical Church. New York, New York: Abingdon-Cokesbury Press, 1972. "Sweat” by Zora Neale Hurston". Anti Essays. 20 Apr. 2007
"Sweat: Introduction." Short Stories for Students. Ed. Marie Rose Napierkowski. Vol.
19. Detroit: Gale, 1995. January 2006. 20 April 2007

"Zora Neale Hurston." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 19 Apr 2007, 22:18 UTC.
Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 20 Apr 2007

[1] Lillie P. Howard, Concise Dictionary of American Literary Biography

Loyalty and Choice

I felt that I wrote one of my better essays on this story because I enjoyed this piece, it was interesting to read. I felt that I analyzed it well, and wrote a essay that explained the father and son conflict accurately.

Alyssa D. Harrison
English 202
Evelyn Beck
26 March , 2007

Loyalty and Choice

William Faulkner's short story “Barn Burning” is a tale of loyalty to one’s family, as well as the loyalty shown during the war between the North and South. “Barn Burning” takes place in the post Civil War South where society judged a person by they’re actions during the war. Ab Snopes served both the North and the South, changing his allegiance often as a mercenary. He has a difficult time with authority, which is why the mercenary role probably appealed to him. When Ab comes into conflict with his employer, he finds himself taking control from the authority figure, and reverting back to his mercenary ways. He has no allegiance because he is a sharecropper, working for someone else, working hard for very little and making him feel that the employer is the enemy, thus justifying to himself the reason for burning down the barns.

During the restoration of the South, the only thing that kept the South alive and running were the memories of fallen heroes and the belief that the South would rise again, and regain the status that it had once held. Families like the Sartorises, whom Sarty was named after, and the De Spains were glorified and praised for honors that their family members had achieved during battle. These honors made it possible for these families to take a lead role in their societies, placing them in public offices, and giving them a chance to prosper where others could only dream. This same honor seemed to carry over to those who shared the names of the Great War heroes, which is why Sarty was named after Colonel Sartoris. This is even mentioned in the beginning of the story by the Justice of the Peace as a way of reminding Sarty that he should be honest with the court. “’Hey’, the Justice said. ‘Talk louder. Colonel Sartoris? I reckon anybody named for Colonel Sartoris in this county can't help but tell the truth, can they?'” (1464).

The Snopes are viewed as dishonorable. During the war, Ab Snopes was a mercenary for serving both sides. He went to war as a “Malbrouck,” out only for the “booty” that he could collect from either side. He stole horses from both the North and the South to earn a living during the war; he was even shot in the heel by a Confederate provost as he fled on a stolen horse. This episode gave Ab Snopes a limp for life. You can see how stiffly Sarty’s father walks when following the judge out of the courtroom in the beginning of the story. “His father turned, and he followed the stiff black coat, the wiry figure walking a little stiffly from where a Confederate provost’s man's musket ball had taken him in the heel on a stolen horse thirty years ago”(1465). It was because of these actions that the community looked down upon the Snopses, and caused in turn Ab to take revenge upon his adversaries. This causes conflict for Sarty, who, as a young boy, is struggling to find his role in a world ruled by his father.

Sarty has an innate sense of right and wrong, and he knows that what his father is doing is wrong. He also struggles with the loyalty he feels to his father. During the court hearing, he feels the people are attacking him as well as his father. This is evidenced by his thoughts during the court trial. He feels that any enemy of his father is an enemy of his. He thinks to himself “our enemy he thought in that despair; ourn! mine and hisn both! He's my father!” (1464). Torn between his family loyalty and his need to do what is right, Sarty finally has to choose. When Ab comes into conflict with Major De Spain, his most recent employer, he reverts to his old Civil War ways of non-allegiance to benefit himself. Major De Spain accuses Ab of intentionally destroying his rug. After Ab's attempts to fix the rug fail, De Spain charges him twenty bushels of corn for the damages. Ab felt that twenty bushels are too steep a price for the damages, so he takes De Spain to court and sues him. The Justice of the Peace lowers the fine for the damages, but Ab is still not satisfied. Feeling unjustly punished, Ab does the only thing that he knows and reverts to that challenge of authority, burning down de Spain’s barn. Ab is shot and killed in the process because Sarty made the choice to alert the De Spain family of his father’s actions.

Choice, one of Ab’s to burn down the barn, and that of Sarty’s to be honest, determines the end of this story. Ab has never held an allegiance to any man or thing. His life is one of self-preservation. During the war he worked for both sides without allegiance, bound only by who was paying. In life after the war he has not changed. He travels from farm to farm, sharecropping to provide for his family, but when he feels pressure from an authority figure, he takes the power away from them by burning or destroying what they own. His allegiance to an employer lasts only as long as he retains the power. Once that is gone, he simply takes it back by force, and moves on. Ab deserves his own end, but not at the cost of Sarty’s innocence. Choices were made in the end, and loyalty to oneself and beliefs won out.

Work Cited

Faulkner, William. Barn Burning. The Heath Anthology of American Literature. Ed. Paul Lauter et al. Vol D. New York, Houghton Mifflin, 2006. 1464 -1476.

The Use of Irony and Symbolism in Desiree’s Baby

If I could do this essay over again I would have gone more in depth with the symbolism. I enjoyed this story immensely because it was very rich with description, and symbolism filled with hidden meanings. I feel like I only skimmed the surface of the irony and symbolism inherent in this piece.

Alyssa D. Harrison
English 202
Evelyn Beck
15 February, 2007
The Use of Irony and Symbolism in Desiree’s Baby

Irony is defined as outcome of events contrary to what was, or might have been, expected. This is certainly the case in the short story by Kate Chopin, “Desiree’s Baby.” Throughout this story she uses symbolism and irony to enhance the story and keep the reader reading to find out what happens to Desiree and her child leaving the reader with a sense of doom as to their fates. The colors are the most notable use of symbolism found throughout the piece.
The title of Kate Chopin’s short story, "Desiree’s Baby," would suggest that this story is about her child, but although it does revolve around Desiree’s son, the story’s main message centers about the injustice of racial prejudice. Race in this story is referred to by colors: white as the good and pure; black as evil and tainted. She uses the colors of the slaves skin, as well as the clothes worn by Armand to demonstrate the use of the black color as evil. She draws a clear line between Armand and Desiree by using these color references as well as other symbolism. Chopin also makes reference of the slaves’ inferiority throughout the story by referring to them as “they”, “he”, and “it”. Desiree’s own son is only referred to as “the baby”. This in essesence dehumanizes the characters and makes them seem under ones notice. Desiree is living in a society where the purity of your bloodline is of the utmost importance, a society that values racial purity above all. One drop of black blood is enough to taint a person for life.
The story takes place during the time of slavery in Louisiana. Desiree had been adopted after her adoptive family found her. She is of unknown parentage, a fact that has made her question herself throughout her life. This makes her an excellent scapegoat for Armand after the baby is born, and it is realized that he is of black descent. The irony is that she is not black; it is Armand who carries the tainted blood, yet it is Desiree who will live as a social outcast for the rest of her life. This is due mostly in part to the time period in which the characters are living, a time where your antecedents rule your social status. Racism was rampant due to the belief that black people were thought of as an inferior race. Armand’s racism runs so deep that he sacrifices his wife’s reputation and destroys their love and family for the sake of saving face. His cruelty toward his own slaves is his way of punishing himself for a trait that is not his to control. Placing blame on outside forces creates a tragedy not only for himself, but also for Desiree and their son. Armand makes this mistake when he can see no other cause for his anguish and blames God for what he sees as a cruel injustice placed upon him: “He thought Almighty God had dealt cruelly and unjustly with him”(361). It is ironic that his mother also thanks God that her son doesn’t know he is black.
Although no one seemed to notice at first, by the time the child was three months old, neighbors and Armand himself noticed a change in the child. “Desiree awoke one day to the conviction that there was something in the air menacing her peace.“(359). The baby is of mixed blood, which becomes apparen, as he gets older; because of this, Armand shuns his wife and child, whom he was so proud of only days before. Armand began absenting himself from the home, and avoiding Desiree and their child. The baby resembles one of the quadroon boys serving in their household, a boy who is one-quarter black. It is assumed that Armand is the only white male on the plantation, being the master, and this reference can only mean that his son with Desiree resembles a child he may have fathered with one of the slaves. There is even a statement made by Desiree to her adoptive mother, “Armand heard him the other day as far away as La Blanche's cabin."(354). Though Desiree never seems to grasp the reasoning behind Armand visiting the slave La Blanche, it is assumed that he is the one fathering her children since there is never a reference to La Blanche having a husband. La Blanche, whose name means without color, resembles a white woman in appearance though her bloodlines are known to contain black blood. Since his own bloodline is assumed to be without question, Armand is certain the impure blood must have come from his wife. When confronted by Desiree after she sees one of the slave’s children, and realizes the implications of her son’s appearance, Armand accuses Desiree of not being white, which she adamantly denies. “It is a lie it is not true, I am white!”(360). She then proceeds to hold up her hand and state that she is whiter of skin than he, and that her eyes are gray. "As white as La Blanche's," he returned cruelly”(360). This is another element of foreshadowing that Chopin uses throughout her work.
After writing to her adopted mother and telling her what is happening, her mother tells her to come home with her son where she will be loved. Desiree, shocked and disheartened, sets off towards a local bayou with her child never to be seen again. “She disappeared among the reeds and willows that grew thick along the banks of the deep, sluggish bayou; and she did not come back again.”(362) Armand has made the decision to lose his family in order to save his name. Some weeks later he has a bonfire built in which he burned all the remnants of his time with his wife and child. The last to go was a bundle of letters Desiree had written to Armand during their courtship. There was in the drawe,r however, a letter that he found from his mother to his father which revealed a secret that had destroyed all he held dear, his sense of self, his wife, and son all gone because of a secret. While gathering the letters from Desiree, he finds part of a letter from his mother to his father thanking God for her husband’s love. “But, above all,” she wrote, “night and day, I thank the good God for having so arranged our lives that our dear Armand will never know that his mother, who adores him, belongs to the race that is cursed with the brand of slavery.” (363)
Chopin often uses symbolism such as Desiree’s name which means “desired”, as well as colors such as her white dress to symbolize not only the fact that she is white, but that she was an innocent. She describes Desiree’s hair as she walks into the bayou as a halo like an angel’s: “the sun's rays brought a golden gleam from its brown meshes”(363) The thin white shift that she is wearing is one she feels is appropriate for the daughter of a race in which she is now a part of. She shows that she accepts the heritage that she believes she now belongs to by walking through the field where the slaves used to pick cotton, instead of using the road. “ She walked across a deserted field, where the stubble bruised her tender feet, so delicately shod, and tore her thin gown to shreds.” (362) The gown, symbolizes her reputation, which is ruined beyond repair. The use of Desiree as her name shows that she was once the desire of Armand, and still of her adoptive mother who loves her no matter her heritage.
The end of the story shows Armand sitting before the bonfire that the slaves built under his orders burning items that represent goodness. The bonfire is a symbol of hell. By the end of the story, you have a good “black” angel going off to die and a bad “white” devil that lives. It is not until the last sentence that we discover that the angel, Desiree, is white and the devil, Armand, is black. The irony is that the letter read by Armand from his mother reveals to him that it is he who is of mixed blood and not Desiree. Armand, who was raised in France for the early part of his life, and who came to Louisiana with his father after what we assume is the death of his mother, never knew about his hidden heritage. We will never know if he shows regret in accusing Desiree of being the one of mixed blood, he drove her out, and disavowed their son. It was more important for Armand to save face and his standing in the community, than to save the ones he claims to love.
Armand shows that he is not a strong person by hiding the truth, and placing the blame on another, it shows that Desiree finds strength in herself with her acceptance of what she now believes is her heritage. This was a tragic story about the frailty of the human psyche, and the strength that can be found by others in adversity.

Chopin, Kate. Desiree’s Baby The Heath Anthology of American Literature. Ed. Paul
Laurter and Richard Yarborough. 5th ed. Boston, Ma.: 2006. (353-363)