Tag: frightened

Spit Wads and Bullets

Thwack! The spit wad squishes in its landing on the Spanish textbook sitting open on my desk. We pause our anticipatory talk of upcoming prom on April 24 – exactly one month to the day. Not at all surprised at this par-for-course behavior of the boys in my sophomore class, I roll my eyes in faux annoyance as I turn to look back over my left shoulder. A group of them, sitting purposely too straight and proper in their chairs, grinning like a herd of Cheshire cats, point at one another in a haphazardly organized effort of deflecting blame. Shaking my head and exhaling a sigh of annoyance, I turn back to the group of girls gathered in the same circle as myself and we resume our chatter.

Thwack! Another spit wad breaks the barrier of our “girl circle,” this time splatting into one of the girl’s shoulder before rolling down the front of her shirt and landing in her lap. Quickly she brushes the slobbery wad of chewed paper off her leg and into the floor. “Grow up,”she seethes at the boys.

“Don’t you talk to Billy Idol that way,” a disguised male voice from the back row quotes a line from Adam Sandler’s new movie, The Wedding Singer.

One of the other girls in our circle growls in response, but again, this is mostly for show. Daily we are annoyed with their antics, but this same idiocy that annoys us also partially endears them to us as fellow classmates and friends.

“Where is Ms. B?” I ask only out of nosiness. Ms. B’s is our second-to-last class of the day, and though time spent dodging spit wads is far more pleasurable than conjugating verbs, half the class period is nearly over.

Pop! One of the boys who had been standing in the doorway on “teacher watch” duty (so as to alert the others when to stop misbehaving) pops one of the girls’ bra straps as he hurries back to his seat. “She’s comin’!” he squeals in a high-pitched, mock voice, purposely trying to heighten the excitement in the room. We all heed his warning then, shuffling our desks back into less than tidy rows.

When Ms. B steps into her classroom, red-rimmed eyes and slumped shoulders evidence of her weariness, we are composed and orderly, no sign that anything amiss has been taking place. I assume that her lack of notice means we’ve been successful in our façade, but as she stands in front of us, head down and very obviously collecting her words, I know it has nothing to do with our successfully hidden shenanigans, and that, instead, she is preoccupied in her thoughts.

We shoot sideways glances to one another, eyebrows raise, shoulders shrug… none of us know what to say or do. After all of our eyes meet each others’ and a silent consensus is reached that none of us know anything, Ms. B lifts her gaze from the worn industrial carpeting and focuses intently on the sheets of student artwork plastered along the back wall of the room. I wonder if she is assessing the plethora of spit wads littering the room.

“Mr. Green got a phone call from a colleague of his in Jonesboro.” Her voice quivers as she references the principal of our school. “We don’t know any details yet, but…” she pauses, again, takes a breath, then begins again. “We don’t know any details yet because it just happened, but… someone took a gun to a school in Jonesboro and… I don’t even want to imagine…” Ms. B voice trails off. She cries, heartbroken. Amongst my peers there are some small gasps, a sniffle, and a couple of classmates squirm uncomfortably in their seats.

Someone sucked all the air out of the room. The tick of the clock on the wall above the chalkboard, the hour hand holding steady at “1,” pushes the minute hand past “27.” How strange time is, to continue on in spite of ourselves. I think about time for a minute; about how, in the very same minutes – seconds, even – while we were dodging spit wads, terrified students at Westside Middle School, just three hours away in distance, were dodging bullets.

I stare intently on the spit wad stuck to the chalk board behind Ms. B’s head, marveling over how mundane the silliness is. I wonder how many mundane spit wads witnessed the horrors that had taken place at that school not even an hour earlier.

We sit in silence; some watch the clock, others close their eyes. We don’t know what any of this means. We know it is sad – the loss of human life is sad – but we cannot fathom it. Our lack of experience has not fully developed our aptitude for empathy yet. Our perspective is skewed; incomplete.

Realization of the implications of what Ms. B has just told us finally dawning, we slowly look around the room at one another, beginning, for the first time, to consider each other in new light – in suspect light?
Yet…
No. That sort of thing doesn’t happen in places like this.
Thwack! The spit wad that had been trailing a slow descent finally loses its grasp on the chalkboard, and we all startle as it falls, sloppily, in a collection of dust onto the chalk tray.

About this essay:

I was inspired to write the essay, “Spit Wads and Bullets,” by a prompt in a college textbook asking the writer to recall a national event, using his/her senses to re-create this memory. As I’m sure would occur with most people, several national events came to mind, but this one in particular unfolded effortlessly in my mind, begging to be penned. It tells the story of the Jonesboro, Arkansas school shooting which occurred on March 24, 1998, subtly and indirectly, by employing the parallel of what myself and my classmates were doing at our own school three hours away, in the very same minutes as the tragedy in Jonesboro.

My use of italicized “sound effects” throughout the essay were implemented as a “startle” technique, to prompt a sort of “mental jolt” in the reader. Similarly, my ending is intended to leave the reader with a leaden feeling as the heaviness of the essay begins to sink in.

Disclaimer: Names have been changed in this essay.

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Not So Supernatural After All

Thomas Hardy’s short story, “The Withered Arm,” addresses social issues of class conflicts through the parallel he draws between the supernatural and reality. Through this parallel, Hardy suggests that the class structures are inevitably and uncontrollably interconnected. Because of this interconnectedness, each class distinction directly affects the other class distinctions, even if unintentionally. Hardy urges the reader to not only draw these connections between social classes, but also exposes the inner turmoil and stereotypical expectations in the mentality from one class division to the other.

Early in “The Withered Arm” Hardy shows the reader the mental impact class division has on individuals. In Parts 1 & 2, Rhoda Brook continuously inquires about Farmer Lodge’s new wife; inquiries which seem to perpetuate from a jealousy or insecurity based on comparison. Even after her son has told her his impression of the farmer’s new wife, and she has told the boy, “That’s all I want to hear” (Hardy), she again probes the boy about the new wife. It seems to be an unquenchable, instinctual curiosity resulting from the human need for acceptance.

If the reader considers Rhoda Brook as a general representation of a lower class of society, and Farmer Lodge’s new wife as representative of an upper class, then Hardy implies with this example of Rhoda’s inquiries that the natural response, lacking any instigation from one side on the other, is envy. Accompanying these envious feelings are feelings of self-comparison and a longing for what the “other side” has/exhibits. Though Rhoda has done nothing at this point to constitute feelings of less self-worth, and though Farmer Lodge’s new wife has done nothing to imply that she thinks herself better than Rhoda, the very essence of social class division presents these implications and burrows them deep into the minds of individuals.

Once the initial negative mental impact is rooted in the individual psyche, the stigma associated with either/any particular class presents itself. In the characters of “The Withered Arm” Hardy shows the reader this prejudice first in Rhoda’s dream in which she very realistically envisions Gertrude Lodge as an “incubus.” This is an evocative word choice which Hardy uses for Rhoda to view Mrs. Lodge as. By its very definition the terms “evil” and “oppressive” are characteristics often suggested of the higher class division. These characteristics become the expected reality, as Hardy conveys in the line, “…Rhoda Brook could raise a mental image of the unconscious Mrs. Lodge that realistic as a photograph” (Hardy).

Following Rhoda’s dream sequence the reader is made aware of the manifestation of the dream in the bruise on Mrs. Lodge’s arm. Rhoda, after having decided that Mrs. Lodge is rather personable, states that she has “exercise(d) a malignant power over people against (her) own will.” This is an unfortunate reality that mirrors the unfortunate reality of the power one social class has to inflict “bruising” upon another social class.

Any “bruising” caused by a lower class is often viewed as an evil infliction by a higher class. As Hardy has Mrs. Lodge claiming that her “husband says it is as if some witch, or the devil himself, had taken hold of me there, and blasted the flesh,” this sentiment, though it is supernatural in its implications, coexists with the more realistic animosity that the lower class is a parasite, or something of evil/sinful influence.

Despite any fault Rhoda may have in the eventual affliction of Gertrude’s arm, Hardy proposes that “she could not conscientiously stand in the way of a possible remedy” (Hardy). This is an interesting statement in which Hardy appears to be suggesting that it is not the lower class that restricts progress, as may often be suggested by those of greater means. In his narrative note that, “She had a strange dislike to walking on the side of her companion where hung the afflicted arm” (Hardy), Hardy insinuates, again, that the lower class (as represented by Rhoda) does not enjoy being the heel of the body which makes up society, and rather attempts to move around and outside of this assumption.

In spite of any attempts to maneuver around one another, Hardy plainly tells the reader that, “a curious creeping feeling that the condemned wretch’s destiny was becoming interwoven with her own” (Hardy), again providing a concept that mirrors the true realities of the relationship between varying class structures. By the end of the story, Hardy has shown multiple ways in which the social classes are undeniably interwoven, with neither side able to be independent of the other. Besides the unacknowledged relationship of the boy (lower class) and Farmer Lodge (higher class), in the end, the cure and/or demise for one is only at the sacrificial price of the other. This, obviously then, creates a scenario in which neither side wins.

Ultimately, the story repeatedly circles itself back around to very blatantly urge the reader to notice the similarities in the relationship between all social classes, as well the mental anguish the impact of class division has on the individual. In the beginning of “The Withered Arm” the reader sees Rhoda’s (lower class) internal struggle; in the last half of the story, the reader sees Gertrude’s (higher class) inner struggles, as well as the continuous effects these interior capacities have overall. More importantly, however, Hardy urges the reader to connect the interconnectedness of class distinctions for his/her self through his use of superstitious symbolism and supernatural events which are really too close to reality for comfort.

Works Cited

Hardy, Thomas. “The Withered Arm.” The Longman Anthology British Literature. Vol.

28. Ed. David Damrosch. New York:Longman, 2003. 1429-1447. Print handout.

No Easy Way Out

posadacalaveriaFeminist criticism looks at the ways literature continues to corroborate the oppression of women, and in his story, Pedro Paramo, author Juan Rulfo exposes women’s oppression in great depth and shows some of the not-so-ideal endings to having dealt with this oppression. If it is true, as has been suggested, that Rulfo considers Susana San Juan the main character of this story, then it seems evident that his intent in the portrayal of feminist oppression is not to condone the behavior and offer a catalyst of reinforcement of its continuation, but instead to depict the varying ways female oppression is present and the limited ways it is escaped from.

The initial portrayal of women in Pedro Paramo is that of helplessness and dependency upon the wealth and power of men. Rulfo first weaves into the story of Pedro Paramo the many ways, both subtle and evident, in which female oppression is present. From the very opening of the story the reader is introduced to the last wishes of a single mother, poor and deprived, for her son to collect what is owed to him from his absent father (p.2625). The reader gets the sense that the mother is resentful of having lived such a fate (p.2647), and later the reader is exposed to the reality of the burden a single mother is on her family members without the support of a man (p.2634). The portrayal of women as helpless and burdensome is particularly oppressive as it shames the woman into limiting her self-worth and her independence. For many women the fear enables the power of men to maintain the oppression of women.

Fear presents an oppression of its own insidious value as it continually destabilizes a woman’s strength. Destabilization of feminine strength is key, of course, to the perception of worthlessness, thus allowing male dominance to continue its ravenous reign. In Pedro Paramo, the portrayal of Pedro’s expectation of Dolorita to cook and serve his needs, and yet she is never good enough in her endeavors (p.2634) reiterates this self-image of worthlessness. Prior to the expectation of Dolorita to fulfill the domestic role in Pedro’s house, her fear of not being worthy of a man such as Pedro is implied in her worry over the temporary inability to please her husband on their wedding night (p.2633). Rulfo’s portrayal of the woman as required to satisfy her husband’s needs in every way, including sexually, is an ancient expectation along with the representation of women as purposeless except for the fulfillment of a man’s needs. In the book The Shattered Mirror: Representations of Women in Mexican Literature, author Maria Elena de Valdes states that, although it is a common expectation of women all over the world, particularly “in Mexico, women have not just been cast in the role of sex object…; rather they have been taught that their purpose in life is to serve and obey their father and then their husband” (Valdes p.16).

To many women, and under many unfortunate circumstances, these sexual fulfillments end in the reproduction and bearing of children. What is potentially a great blessing can very quickly become heartache and burden on a woman who, after having been used for the man’s dominant release, has been denied not only provision from a responsible man for the life he half created, but also denied the acceptance and opportunity to make her own comfortable place in society.

On the flipside of this bittersweet scenario, is the oppression of society on the woman who cannot bear children. Valdes’ supports this with her statement that “The Mexican woman does not consider herself – nor do others consider her – to be a woman who has reached fulfillment if she has not produced children, if the halo of maternity does not shine above her (Valdes p.16). Rulfo shows his readers the incarnation of this in Dorotea who  shares with Juan her regrets of never having borne a child and dream that it was because she had been given “a mother’s heart but the womb of a whore” (p.2657). The implication of that statement is that a woman who is unable to reproduce is inadequate and therefore unworthy of any greater respect than that of a common street whore, which, in itself, carries the stigma of immeasurable oppressive allusions and issues of degraded self worth.

The issue of degraded self worth is no more evident than in the introduction of Donis and his sister. While Valdes claims that Juan Rulfo indirectly opposed sexism “through irony and the use of the autonomous fictional character” (Valdes p.52), Rulfo made Donis and his sister the culmination of direct, and should-be-obvious, degradation at the cross-center of the story of Pedro Paramo. Donis and his sister, who have been engaged in an incestuous relationship, appear to bear the shame of such very differently from one another. Sharon Magnarelli, in her article “Women, Violence and Sacrifice in Pedro Paramo and la muerta de Artemio Cruz”, states that, “…in Pedro Paramo, Donis’ sister (who apparently has no name) is blamed for their incestuous relationship and censured by all. It is she who is marked by sin, she whom the bishop admonishes, she who dissolves into mud before Juan’s eyes. It would appear, if we are to judge by the reactions of the other characters, that Donis, her partner in this transgression, is somehow less reprehensible” (Magnarelli). Interesting also that, in the end, it is the sister who continues to live in the guilt of it all from her realm of the dead while her brother, Donis, comes and goes presently independent of it in the world of the living (p.2654).

The incestuous affair of Donis with his sister is not the only forced incest upon a woman in Pedro Paramo, nor is it the only visibly direct oppression of the women of Comala. Aside from the incest of Donis’ sister, there are implications of an incestuous relationship between Susana San Juan and her father, Bartolome. Fulgor Sedano’s statement to Pedro regarding Susana’s return to Comala that, “…the way he treats her, she seems more like his wife” (p.2669), though it is not as direct in its reference as is the incest of Donis and his sister, it is implied. The implication then explains Susana’s insistence on referring to her father by his first name, and offers a glimpse into the edge of her madness (2670). In their article, “Psychotherapy with Vietnam Veterans and Rape and Incest Survivors,” authors Ellen Dye and Susan Roth compare the posttraumatic stress disorder of rape and incest survivors with that of Vietnam veterans who “came home to a hostile America in which they felt cut off, distant from, and misunderstood by other Americans.” Similarly, Dye and Roth go on to compare, “rape and incest survivors commonly report feeling similarly alienated. Because of negative perceptions of the Vietnam War and of the pervasive existence of myths about women who become survivors of sexual trauma, both veterans and sexual trauma survivors commonly experience a lack of both social and institutional support” (Dye). The psychological claim by Dye and Roth not only offers insight into the oppression of Susana, but also supports the double standard related to the affair of Donis and his sister.

Aside from the direct oppression of incestuous actions, blatant sexual oppression of women is evident in the innumerable potential rapes committed by Pedro’s son, Miguel. Miguel’s alleged rape of Ana exemplifies the same oppression regarding rape that is active in today’s society as well. Father Rentaria’s continual probing of Ana’s recollection of the presumably traumatic experience causes not only the reader to begin to question Ana’s credibility, but also serves to degrade and humiliate Ana, the victim of sexual assault (p. 2638). Father Rentaria’s question to Ana, “So what did you do to make him leave?” and her response of, “I didn’t do anything” (p.2639), so classically exemplifies the unfounded, yet common misconception, that women who are raped do not try hard enough to stop it. The whole text around the above conversation is obviously Rulfo’s attempt at making a mockery of the ridiculousness and insensitivity that female victims of trauma typically have to endure.

It is interesting that Rulfo chose the character of a woman to be that which would be the accomplice to man’s forceful and determined oppression of women. Dorotea’s confession of having assisted Miguel by providing him access or information to the women he preyed upon is disheartening (p.2665), however, it is an eye-opening inclusion and rather clever on Rulfo’s part. Rulfo seems to use sisterhood as a means of condoning and promoting patriarchy by appeasing the powers that be. The sisterhood of women fail to support and uplift one another in the examples of both, Dorotea collecting women for Miguel, and Dolorita’s persuasion of Ediveges in plotting so that Pedro can potentially be satisfied on his wedding night even in spite of nature’s cycle which Dolorita has no control over in the first place (p.2633). Instead, of banding together to firmly stand against such degrading treatment and oppressive culture, the sisterhood selfishly sacrifice each other for a single moment of protection and/or providence by a man.

Unfortunately, Rulfo provides only three escapes from female oppression in the village of Comala: exile, death, or madness. The option of exile, as chosen by Dolorita, carries with it many sacrifices, as well as the inevitable extra burden on family members. It seems, however, that, in leaving and losing, the peace comes at least in death. Dolorita appears to be the most calm and collected of all the haunting voices in the story. For those who die, whether naturally or by their own hands, while still under the suffocation of oppression, the oppression follows them to the grave. Dolorita’s statement, “…that is, if death ever had a voice” (p.2628) seems to say that even in death there may be no escape; no voice to speak out and change something. Even in death, the oppression of women consumes.

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Works Cited

Magnarelli, Sharon. “Women, Violence and Sacrifice in Pedro Paramo and La muerte de

            Artemio Cruz.” Inti: Revista de literature hispanica (1981): 13-7. Web. 4 May.   2012.

Rulfo, Juan. “Pedro Paramo.” The Norton Anthology of World Literature. Vol. F. Ed. Sarah

Lawall and Maynard Mack. New York: Norton, 2002. 2625-2692. Print.

Valdes, Maria Elena de. The Shattered Mirror: Representations of Women in Mexican

            Literature. Austin, TX: the University of Texas Press, 1998. Print.