Thursday, November 30, 2017

A Citizen

Being a citizen know of the United States is fascinating. Whether being black or white, it has been an interesting thing to see the way we have developed as human beings. The development of technology has had an enormous impact. From Seeing all the people that have been killed by terrorist attacks and racist killings, to seeing montages of puppies and cats. Not to mention or recent presidential elections. I wonder what it would have been like if I went back in time and told someone that at some point we would have a black president. But then right after we would get a fascinating orange man named trump in office that went about to destroy everything the president before him did to fix the country.  But I guess history kind of repeats itself, right?

From Beloved To Citizen

I cannot imagine a world where we get as much out of Citizen as we do without reading Beloved first. Claudia Rankine's collection is a statement on the black experience in America. Without using the pronoun "I" she makes it clear that the reader is supposed to understand the experiences she describes as ones with systemic roots and not personal anecdotes. The goal of her work is to force the reader to analyze their role in the systemic racism that makes being Black in America inherently laced with oppression and prejudice.

Toni Morrison employs the opposite technique of Claudia Rankine. Instead of making Beloved a novel about a generalized story of the black experience during Reconstruction, she fleshes out characters in a very specific situation. But, that is not to say she is not doing a service to the Black community with the way she writes her novel. Morrison makes the reader come to the conclusion that in the setting of right after slavery, one must look at every black person as an individual and not part of a larger. She does this to make the point that Black people were not only fighting racism. They were also fighting the right to be labeled as human. Focusing on one very specific story illustrates the fight Black people were in for their own humanity even after America abolished slavery.

Rankine and Morrison use opposite techniques to relay the meaning of their stories to the reader because of the scale of difference in the meanings. But, Rankine's goal works in connection with Morrison's because it is the environment and system that Morrison wrote about that affects the Black community and the oppression Rankine writes about today. A subtle reference to the slave trade occurs in one of Rankine's more "poetic" sections of Citizen:“Don’t lean against the wallpaper; sit down and pull together. Yours is a strange dream, a strange reverie. No, it’s a strange beach; each body is a strange beach, and if you let in excess emotion you will recall the Atlantic Ocean breaking on our heads"(Rankine 73). With this powerful imagery Rankine makes the reader remember what caused the system to be one of racism and oppression.

Citizen is Important but There is No Denying its Weight

One of my favorite thing about Citizen is that I can’t stop thinking about it. It’s one of those books whose words scream so loud they can echo in your head for days. It rightfully haunts my wondering thoughts with its heavy, but unignorable, truths of society.

What has really been clouding my mind, though, is something that Claudia Rankine said in an interview we watched in class. In the interview she is speaking about when she visited Ferguson, Missouri after the shooting of Michael Brown. A young black man she speaks to says that Michael Brown looked just like him and that that could be him. It struck her, and me, that this man was picturing himself in a dead body. Of course, whenever there is a sudden death, many people say that it could be them. However, there are some very disturbing differences between Michael Brown’s death, and most others: If a drug user dies of an overdose, fellow drug users may realize that it was their own habit that had killed, just as an avid fast food eater may realize when someone they know dies of heart disease, etc.. In cases such as those, these people picture themselves in the dead body because the cause of death was a habit or way of life that they share and something that seems to have some logical reason for its consequence of death. But in Michael Brown’s case, people are relating to his death because they share the same color skin-- something so meaningless; something that should have no consequences at all, let alone one of death.

Just something I was thinking about in class that made my heart heavy.

Embedded Racism

Claudia Rankine's eye-opening novel Citizen continues to keep me engaged. Rankine's writing is inspiring. Each tiny passage that she has on each page gives you a different example of what black people in our country have to go through every day. Specifically through the turmoil that has taken place in Serena Williams tennis career, it makes one ponder whether racism will ever truly go away.

I have always been a huge tennis fan. My dad and I follow the tennis world together and it is a sport we have grown to love. When we watch Serena Williams play she seems to be an unstoppable force. An unstoppable force until somebody else attempts to stop her. Mariana Alves was excused from officiating any more matches on the final day of the US Open when she made five awful calls against Serena Williams. The serves and returns were "...landing, stunningly unreturned by Capriati, inside the lines, no discerning eyesight needed,"(26). It is pretty clear that Alves had something out for Serena. Officiating umpires are very good at there job and may only make one or two slight accidental errors in one match. Five errors is inexcusable. Alves and Serena never had a history before this match of disliking each other. So what made Alves make those awful calls against Serena? The only thing that it seems to come down to is the color of her skin. A few years later in the semifinals of the 2009 US Open, a line judge called a foot fault on Serena in a critical point of the match. Serena yelled at the judge,"I swear to God I'm f-ing going to take this f-ing ball and shove it down your f-ing throat, you hear that?"(29). Evidently Williams had the right to be mad in this situation. During critical points, the umpires and line judges are supposed to be more lenient and let the players play it out. On replay, it was clear that she was not even close to foot faulting but the call was unchangeable. The line judge who made the call proceeded to tell the line judge that Williams threatened to "kill her". Undoubtedly, it seems that the line judge may have emphasized William's anger because she was a threat due to her skin color.

How do we rid of this underlying racism? Serena Williams is just one black athlete that has faced issues such as this. It happens in every sport and lots of the instances go unnoticed. What actions can we take to prevent this?


In Citizen, Rankine discusses the involuntary pulse of sighing. She states, "The sigh is the pathway to breath; it allows breathing. That's just self-preservation. No one fabricates that. You sit down, you sigh. You stand up, you sigh. The signing is a worrying exhale of an ache." (60) I think this is very poetic because Rankine describes something all individuals do daily regardless of who you are. Also, she describes a universal action in a concise and clear way. It reminded me of all the sighing I have done while reading this book. While reading, it makes me sad and angry of all the prevalent examples of racism apparent in our society. One of the examples that made me deeply sigh was the story of the neighbor who called the police because they saw the owners' of the house black friend. In the text it states, "Your neighbor tells you he is standing at his window watching a menacing black guy casing both your homes... You tell your neighbor that your friend, whom he has met, is babysitting. He says, no, it's not him. He's met your friend and this isn't that nice young man." (15) Eventually, the neighbor calls the police. This made me so upset. The neighbor believed that could not be the couple's friend because he is black. In addition, the neighbor attributes nice and friendly to white people and "menacing" (15) to black people. Also, he thought the friend was a threat because he "seemed disturbed. " (15) This is so messed up. It is ridiculous the neighbor still called the police even when the couple said the guy in their house was their friend: that is beyond racist and prejudice... Anyways, I appreciate Rankine implementing different types of racism in her book to make readers well-informed about the prevailing racial discrimination toward black and African-American individuals.

Losing Your Shit

Everyone loses their shit. No human is perfect, everyone experiences a variety of emotions in reaction to events.

At the 2009 Women's US Open semifinal, Serena Williams had "lost her shit". Claudia Rankine's Citizen explains, "Serena's behavior, on this particular Sunday afternoon, suggests that all the injustice she has played through all the years of her illustrious career flashes before her and she decides finally to respond to all of it with a string of invectives" (25).

Williams losing her shit was portrayed negatively through the media and received by her white background on the court, as a detrimental outburst that was violent and unnecessary. They jumped to judge her and make a skeptical of her words, instead of thinking about the important what and why had caused her ice burg of anger to tip.

I youtubed, "2009 Women's US Open semifinal Serena Williams" and the first video to pop up was entitled, "Serena Williams goes crazy vs. Kim Clijisters". The media took advantage of Williams' race, their audience, and the fact there would be a significant profit off an embellished story. Flamboyant media is misleading and spreads dramatized news that then spreads a false knowledge on a subject. It is frustrating seeing articles and video titles like Williams', because everyone loses their shit! The media is making it seem like Williams is the sole person who has ever lost her shit before, and therefore is "crazy" and "extremely violent".

It is unfortunate the majority of our world feeds off gossip. This is something I feel has only grown with time, and all I can hope is that there is a downfall somewhere in the near future for the stability of our civilization.

Multi-Dimensional Language in Citizen

Although not explicitly poetry, Claudia Rankine's Citizen An American Lyric has many literary uses of language. Rankine uses multi-dimensional language meant to stimulate the reader's intellect, sense, emotions and imagination, throughout the lyric, specifically in the line:

“It’s as if a wounded Doberman pinscher or a German shepherd has gained the power of speech. And though you back up a few steps, you manage to tel her you have an appointment. You have an appointment? she spits back. Then she pauses. Everything pauses.”  (18)

The primary purpose of this passage is to invoke intellectual thought in the reader. Rankine achieves this by demonstrating how her interactions with others cause her to dehumanize herself, using a simile to view herself as a generally feared animal. The use of juxtaposition in “wounded” and “Doberman” prompts the reader to imagine a very exact image of a fierce, violent, harmless animal. Additionally the use of "wounded" invokes an emotional reaction as many people feel protective or wounded animals, specifically dogs. The final part of the passage triggers the senses. The reader can clearly feel all the tension Rankine has built through out the passage, and throughout the book. And the tension starts to dissipate as the scene slows down to a stop as the uncomfortable realization of the woman's assumption settles over the characters and the reader.

Despite only needing to utilize two of the afore mentioned characteristics, Rankine flawlessly executes all four, demonstrating how much thought she has put into Citizen. This dedication is also seen in her choice of title: An American LyricA Lyric is a form of poetry expressing the author’s emotions. I believe Rankine used this word to describe her writing instead of simply poetry or even an epic because the entire purpose of this novel is to point out instances of racism and make the audience aware of how often the author is faced with it and how racism’s effects have made her feel. Similarly to Beloved, in Citizen the text makes the audience empathize with African Americans while othering white Americans, which further allows the audience to feel or understand how the speaker and Rankine feel about these instances in her life.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017


I believe there are two types of colorblind, although maybe only one is conventional, and both are awful and result in no steps forward to increased equality between races. The first is being completely blind to people of color. Just pretending they're not there or don't exist. Like the one story in Citizen where she's waiting in line and some white guy just cuts in front of her and didn't see her at all, or the man who knocked over a little black boy and didn't notice at all. If people refuse to see people of other races, how can we expect to improve equality? We can't. In fact, this leaves us taking steps back. Other races are forced to miss out on opportunities because other people don't even know they're there.

The second type of colorblindness is the more conventional one. Some people believe that in order to achieve equality in our society we need to view everyone as the same race. There are companies that will hire a certain number of black people no matter who is best fit for the job, just to seem diverse and "colorblind." For example, when Claudia Rankine writes a story on page 15 about a man who told her he had to hire a woman of color. Then how are we supposed to make progress? If everyone is seen as the same race, they must all be seen as equal. Then  the inequalities will go unnoticed and no change will occur. In addition, this colorblindness will diminish the cultural diversity that our country benefits from having people from so many countries around the world. Learning other people's cultures is important to building our own and understanding other people and other countries. This idea of colorblindness will destroy those cultural differences.

A Message in Fragments?

Save for the occasional lengthy expository piece, the pieces of writing in Claudia Rankine's Citizen are short. The ´poems´ are very brief glimpses. Many take up less than half of a page even. They are passing slices-of-life, framed in a way that makes the reader ponder the glimpse/situation/circumstance as something more than a self-contained stanza of text. In this way, the short length plays into Rankine´s favor by ´showing but not telling´. The ´telling´ is so often left up to the reader to interpret. In this instance, the ´telling´ is unique because it seems invariably linked to the reader's situation. Might the African American reader look on to these glimpses and nod accordingly to the familiarity of such situations in their personal lives? Might the white reader look at this work and wince in shame at what Rankine is depicting of them, or alternatively, feeling the desire for affirmative action?

Its hard to do a literary analysis of her work because the brunt and heft of its meaning are highly subjected, I'll be, fragmented and in digestible chunks. The argument could be made that each piece is meant to be observed within its own context, but I would argue, while each story/poem is meant to be understood for their individual meanings, the magic of Rankine´s collection comes from the summation of the bag of evoked emotions therein. To piece them all together into one solidified theme, or one intended emotion then becomes challenging, but I´m sure to Rankine, that´s ok.

Regardless of whether you see yourself in Rankine´s depictions, or feel connected to her writing to any degree, the greatest impact you can experience from Citizen is reading it with the intention of deriving your own meaning.

Looks Are Everything

Citizen introduces a topic that is very evident in social media. The idea of judging one based on their looks persists from accomplished athletes to successful actresses and singers. Citizen highlights one of the most popular athletes of her time, Serena Williams. Page 36 features the image of Caroline Wozniacki impersonating Serena Williams' body. While Claudia Rankine doesn't specifically reveal Woznicaki's thoughts behind her action, what is clear is the hate and judgment associated with the action. This throws all of Serena's accomplishments off of the table and leaves people to judge her solely based off of her looks. 

In addition, an article posted in The Washington Post reports on the social media backlash Gabby Douglas received for her hair. The article provides photos of people on social media commenting on Douglas' hair. They said things like "Someone fix her hair." What is truly disappointing is that not only are Douglas' true talent and hard work being disregarded, but the criticisms people made were extremely hurtful. But, Douglas rose above them responding with a confident statement cherishing herself and all that comes with it. This situation is closely related to what happened with Serena Williams. Again, not only is it not good enough to reach the position these athletes have, but they are scrutinized and criticized further for things they are not in control of. 

Lastly, another example of one's appearance getting in the way occurs with actress Lupita Nyong’o. After being photographed for the cover of Grazia magaizne, Nyong'o's photo was retouched to smooth down her natural hair in a ponytail. Again, instead of cherishing and embracing a successful figure and their accomplishments, the need to judge comes first. Nyong'o took to social media reflecting on the disappointment she felt in Grazia Magazine in forcing her appearance to fit a Euro centric standard. 

All of these situations have one thing in common, black women being judged solely on their appearance. Citizen goes into detail about this topic with various encounters. These encounters begin from the Catholic school scene and continue into the instance on the plane. Rankine includes these to articulate a theme that looks are everything. 

The Community Behind Invisiblity

The opening story of Claudia Rankine's book, Citizen An American Lyric is a strong, moving beginning. It is a story everyone can identify with, the feeling of being invisible is one every human being has felt at some point in their life. While the book is about the experiences of blacks, specifically black Americans, this opening sequence is universal and sets the book up to make the reader feel like they can identify with it. Everyone who has ever felt invisible, like they are not worth even being seen, knows how much your stomach just crumbles in on itself and everything feels like it just falls apart. The more people treat you as invisible, the more you start to believe that you really are invisible.

Rankine's choice to start the story about invisibility draws the reader into the story and makes them kind of feel bad about themselves and the pain they felt when they went through when they felt invisible. This feeling is especially important for white readers who need to be able to understand, just a little bit, the pain that accompanies being black in America. 

Also the part about invisibility is about the past, is a modern adult lying in bed remembering her childhood years in school when she was invisible. This painful memory still lingers with her, and invades her thoughts when she is so tired that she can barely do anything. This experience was so horrible and painful that it will never leave her. Once again, anyone can probably identify with this constant invasion and is important for Rankine to establish this before starting the rest of her story. 

Going against the Current

In Claudia Rankine's, Citizen, the passage about Serena Williams and her incident during the U.S. Open really struck me. She starts off by saying that Serena showed "explosive behavior" that she had been "taught to hold at a distance for your own good"(25). This resonated with me because it really show the binary and double standard that African Americans are held too. Yes, Serena Williams did decide to participate in a sport that was predominantly played by whites, but that doesn't mean that she should be held to a different standard than everyone else because of her skin color. Yet, she is.

In our society, African Americans have to act a certain way and be a certain person to be accepted in our society. The anger shown by Serena Williams was out of pure frustration and the rest of American perceived it as "black anger". America thinks that anger shown by African Americans is different than the anger whites show and that their anger is something more. Rankine frequently talks about African Americans as "animals". Because of the anger shown by African Americans and the standard that they are held to, people in our society perceive as something less than human. This view of African Americans as lower than animals has been going on throughout history and continues to happen today.

Later on Rankine says that, "code for being black in America is being governed not by the tennis match she is participating in but by a collapsed relationship that promised to play by the rules"(30). This relationship that Rankine is talking about is the relationship between whites and blacks in our society. The code for being black in our society is being governed by whites. They are the ones who determine the rules and hold African Americans to a higher standard. Later on she talks about how, "she finally felt American' and that she had been "waiting her whole life for a moment and here it is"(31". This line in particular really resonated with me because sometimes African Americans sometimes do not feel as if they are being accepted by America. America is supposed to be this great country with equal opportunities yet racism and discrimination have taken over the country.

What You Look Like Indicates Who You Are?

"Stop and Frisk" Script for Situation Video created in collaboration with John Lucas interested me and stood out to me. I am familiar with the injustice of black people being pulled over and treated harshly for no reason. I have heard stories of people feeling forced to be cautious and overly polite just to avoid violence.
One time my family was driving in Freeport, Illinois when my dad rightly got pulled over by the cops for speeding. If my father had not been white he would have driven off with much more than a warning.
However, this description of a cop pulling over a black man, we can presume, allows the reader to empathize with his anger due to injustice because of the second person point of view. Over and over Rankine writes, "And you are not the guy and still you fit the description because there is only one guy who is always the guy fitting the description."
This quote reminds me of how people view black men, in particular, as the same. They "fit the description" of a thief, a hoodlum, a murderer when really there is no reason to believe that the way they look indicates who they are or what they have done. In history class we are talking about famous black men such as Frederick Douglass, William Still, and Denmark Vesey. (Notice how even though they are famous, you may not have heard of William Still or Denmark Vesey before. Oftentimes the Grand Narrative of history leaves out the successes and achievements of African Americans.) When these men are pictured online or even in books the same picture is used. While that may simply indicate the lack of historical records for the way these men looked, I think it can also symbolize how America generalizes black men and refuses to see their individuality and importance.

All White People Are Racist

All white people are racist.

This is a statement that I've seen argued about many times. Most of the time, someone will post it on Facebook, and the comments will be filled with well-meaning white people defending themselves, angry and insulted because they consider themselves an ally fighting for racial equity - they are fighting against racism, so no, they are not racist!

However, I find it so extremely important to accept it as the truth. All white people are racist (feel free to battle it out in the comments section below, I guess). You can be fighting against racism and still have been strongly, mostly unconsciously influenced by a system rooted in racism. As a white person, as a liberal who is committed to social justice work, this has been hard for me to accept. But I've found that the way to be the most productive is to realize that I am racist. It's a scary thing to say, especially in Oak Park, of all places. And never in a million years would I be racist purposefully, consciously. I wake up every day and try so hard to be politically correct and a good ally and show solidarity and do everything "right." But through no immediate fault of my own, I am and will always be racist, and so will every other white person. I'm getting preachey here, but we have to recognize the racism in ourselves in order to combat the racism in others and in society. We have benefited from a racist system - not something we chose, but it still happened. I have to question myself frequently, call myself on my ingrained, subtle beliefs. If I tense up when there's a group of black men coming towards me on the sidewalk, I have to ask - would I be less tense if they were white? I'd still have a pit in my stomach because of the gender situation, but it would definitely be smaller if they were white. Noticing that feels disgusting. It feels awful, and I feel guilty and ashamed. But it's so much better to keep noticing it and questioning it than to let it slip by and pretend I am the perfect Oak Park liberal.

And there are so many more things I say, do, and think that are probably racist but I don't catch. I mean so well, but I could easily be one of the white people in one of the scenarios in Citizen. It's freaky, but I think all white people could be in this book, and most probably have no idea.

An American Lyric

As far as I can tell, Claudia Rankine's purpose behind Citizen is to capture the frustration and rage of a community that has continued to be ignored and oppressed for generations. I find that her writing of Citizen in the form of a lyric to be the most ideal format for expressing her message. It gives her the freedom to explore a slightly different style and approach in each part. The first part starts with short, stylistic vignettes that built upon each other. While each is obviously just one example of racism being perpetrated, they all display a symptom of a greater issue at work. Furthermore, putting example after example makes it clear that these are more than just isolated incidents, but rather a constant presence.

In the second part Rankine takes a slightly different approach, analyzing Serena William's mistreatment by the tennis community, and defends her angry outburst against a referee. Without the context of her mistreatment, the outburst would come off as crazy, but understanding her history, the outrage seems entirely justified. It was the outrage of a woman tired of being stepped on and ignored by her contemporaries. It took a famous example of black outrage and explained how it came about to help the audience understand how that type of anger would come about.

The style in part 2 reads more like a traditional book than the more poetic prose style that was presented in the first part. That's because the ideas in this part needed more attention and detail to express the message. That being said, the change in style isn't abrasive, it feels very natural. Because Rankine presents Citizen in lyrics, she can jump around to many different styles and subjects depending on how much detail is needed. It gives her freedom to express a plethora of ideas in different ways without the tone shifts ever distracting too much from her actual message.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Format Forms the Meanings

After reading the first few pages of Citizen, I was thoroughly confused. I had no idea what storyline Rankine was following, who was narrating, or who the intended audience was supposed to be. Now that I am half way through the book, I still don't understand. And while I am very uncomfortable with the unknown, I think that there is significant meaning behind Rankine's style and format.

The format of a book dictates so much about the writing itself. Format can affect the perspective, the understanding, and the overall attitude of any writing piece. It is evident in the novel that Rankine truly plays around with format and experiments freely.

I have decided that Citizen is a stream of consciousness in the form of poetry. However, the speaker is not always the same, which makes it so interesting coming from one author. Rankine jumps around in time periods and characters and while it is hard to follow, it makes it that much more enticing. As a reader, you are getting more involved and using your brain harder to fully wrap your head around what is happening.

Furthermore, I think that the subject of the book matches the format. The issue of race in our country today is not something that can be typed up in a formal essay or even a traditionally written novel. Many different aspects fit into the full picture and they may not make sense individually, but when put together, the bigger picture is clear.

While I still haven't made up my mind whether I enjoy this thought-provoking and simply confusing piece of work, I can say for sure that it is the most unique form of writing that I have ever read. And in a way, I think that that was Rankine's goal. 

The Power of You

Right off the bat Claudia Rankine throws her readers into a confusing passage in her novel, Citizen. As readers, it is very rare when a novel begins in second person. This automatically threw me off, at least. At first, I was very confused; I didn't understand why Rankine would decide to write her novel in an unconventional second person point of view. Yet, as I continued to read, the usage of "you" became more familiar to me. It shifted from being confusing to being in the moment of these short passages in Part I.

Rankine's use of the second person is by no means strange, just unconventional -- but that is what makes this novel so interesting and drawing. Rankine actually explained why she wanted to write some portions of Citizen in the second person -- it was because she sought to filter her personal experiences through the eyes of her readers. She wanted it to be not only personal to her, but to her readers as well.

While seemingly nonconformist, the second person evokes feelings of passion such as anger and frustration. It's easy to read experiences that happened to others, but it is difficult to read experiences that happened to you. A simple usage of the second person perspective can change an entire feeling a reader has in such a powerful novel like Citizen. That is the power of "you".

Jena Six

I found the way Rankine addressed the Jena Six beating to be really unique. She starts the section off by describing how the presumably white perpetrators "noosed the rope looped around the overhanging branches of their tree" (99). For context, this refers to the series of nooses hung outside the local high school prior to the beating. While racially charged, the event was swept under the rug until it's potential relation to the later crimes was called to question.

Rankine then goes on to describe the incident itself in her usual matter of fact, graphic detail. Not knowing what had actually happened I assumed the gruesome beating to be yet another hate crime in line with the others described in this section, yet as I read her conclusion I realized the roles were in fact reversed. The incident involved several young black men beating a racist white peer, contrary to the usual narrative. It initially seemed odd to include this completely different example that highlights a moral grey area of racial justice, perhaps detracting from her overall point in the section about hate crimes.

The last line however clarified the relevance of this story to her theme: "...the fists the feet criminalized already are weapons already exploding the landscape and then the litigious hitting back is life imprisoned" (101). The point is not to mull over the ethically ambiguous motivation of the beating, but instead the harsh response to it. The previous noose incidents were largely ignored and on a larger scale racially motivated attacks in general are often written off as "depraved", "tragic", and otherwise not indicative of a larger societal issue. The 6 boys guilty of beating their racist classmate were arrested and tried (one as an adult) in contrast to the treatment of their white counterparts.

Rankine uses this story to highlight another component of the hate crimes she describes. Not only are they horrific in their own right, but our suspiciously mild societal and legal reactions to them are problematic as well. By juxtaposing the instance of young black men being vigorously prosecuted for a violent but debatably justified attack, she makes apparent the dichotomy in our perception of black and white individuals in relation to racially motivated crime.

The Game is Fixed

If the game is fixed do you keep playing? Knowing it's not fair, feeling invisible, losing hope, and going to lose, but you keep the game going. Trying your hardest and putting everything in the game you are defeated.

“It is all too exhausting and Serena’s exhaustion shows in her playing; she is losing, a set and a game down… Again Serena’s frustrations, her disappointments, exist within a system you understand not to try to understand in any fair-minded way because to do so is to understand the erasure of the self as systemic, as ordinary. For Serena, the daily diminishment is a low flame, a constant drip” (31,32).

Claudia Rankine poetically uses Serena William's fixed tennis game as a metaphor for the "game" black people have to face in America regarding discrimination and racism. Rankine expresses how exhausting the "game" is for black people, how frustrating, disappointing, and unjust it is but the "game" is still being played. There's no giving up.

Serena loses the game and gets fined, facing repercussions farther than losing the game. But whoever fixed the game isn't facing any punishments. Seems blatantly unfair, an issue that should be immediately regarded and fixed but it seems most of America are blinded and the fixed game continues.

The Picture on Page 19

Let me start with the obvious question. What is it? I'm going to go through a logical progression: head to toe. The first factor I saw on the head is the mask. Coated in gold and silver surrounded by pearls it displays affluence in a way no jewelry ever could. It's grafted to the face in a way that replaces its personality- aka the mouth- with money. While the mask is the clearest feature on the head, the most interesting thing to me is the nose and mouth region. It is, quite simply, human. A human nose on the face of something that is simply not human. The ears as well upon closer inspection look more like a deer than the dog like attributes the rest of the face has.

I then examined  the body. This one is easy. It's a dog

The legs and feet are equally as easy to discern. They're deer body parts.

Now let us put this together in the form of a riddle. What has the legs and ears of a deer, the body and head of a dog, and the mouth and nose of a human? My answer? This book. The picture is symbolic for the entire book, a hodge-podge collection that alone makes no one look and lies underneath the surface of our collective mind, but when put together stands out enough to draw a response and even perhaps contemplation.

Yes, if we want to get very surface level the picture is a direct textual reference, but that's fun for no one.

Monday, November 27, 2017

What the Hell

Okay, I'm just mad. It's not even Claudia Rankine writing in a particularly convincing, argumentative, or emotional way- she just listed the facts. The section about Serena Williams makes its audience feel Serena's anguish and anger because we as both empathetic and (hopefully) just humans cannot help it.
The chronological order of the barrage of false calls and discrimination against Serena builds up a fire in readers' guts akin to that of Serena's and this is just a few pages, not a lifetime.
I mean, we all know that Billie Jean King faced struggles as a female tennis player, but even so, even with her sexist opposition, when she won that legendary match she won. She was not called on a foot fault or some other trivial rule.
The fact that Rankine writes, "It is believed by winning [Serena] will prove her red-blooded American patriotism and will once and for all become beloved by the tennis world..." (31), proves that white people continue to think that America is white. Obviously that is not true because America was never white, because the Native Americans were here first, and slavery brought black Africans here shortly after. Anyway, the fact that Serena had to prove her Americanness by winning, even though she was already one of the most successful American tennis players, already put her at a disadvantage. It is not a secret that you perform better, work better, when you are supported. Not only was she not being supported by her own country (and would not be even after her successes, as is clear from the commentator's announcements after the 2012 Olympics), but it was like she was on trial. So much pressure is put on black people to succeed because they have to get past the barrier of judgment and discrimination from being black.
It's ridiculous that after she won two of the three American gold medals, she was ridiculed, continuously insulted on live TV in front of the whole country for doing a happy dance. She was hated on for being proud of herself. No, not for being proud of herself- for being proud of herself and being black. White people just can't get the idea out of their heads that being black does not allow you to be anything good. Like the little girl in the first story, who thought that because the little black girl smelled good, she was automatically less black. Serena couldn't be black and be good at tennis.
I'm just pissed. Reading what Serena said to the line umpire that called her foot fault made me so proud, so proud to know that a strong black woman was out there defending herself, because God knows women, particularly black women or black people in general, are not allowed to defend themselves. And then it said she lost the game, had to pay a huge fine, and was suspended for two whole years.
It pisses. Me. Off. It's like every step forward we take, they push us back two more.

A New Way of Writing About Race

The first section of Citizen combines dozens of racist interactions into one cohesive chapter. Memories are told through a second-person point of view, inviting the reader to experience them firsthand instead of at a distance. As the chapter progresses, so does the strength of the negative feeling produced. In the very last story of the first section, the racist realization is shouted down on the narrator. Many of the interactions deal with a type of racism that is harder to detect in ways than outright derogatory slurs. Microaggressions. They exists within and without black communities, among people of color and people of privilege.

In the third section "What did you say?" is repeated. This section focuses on the addressability and our reactions to language that is used to address, both directly and indirectly. For the first time we see the narrator laugh and comment on these microaggressions. For instance, the narrator remarks that the manager's mistake was saying what he said aloud. The important thing to identify about this chapter is that the narrator recognizes his/her/their capacity to react. Microaggressions do not end at the microaggressive statement: the reaction is part of the aggression as well. If the subject stays quiet, the microaggressive statements will go unadvertised to the speaker. The difference between section one and section three is that section one trusts the reader to understand the injustices being performed. Whereas section three provides the much desired protests to the acts.

In the second sections lies a deep conflict. Where anger is justified, it should not be expected or commodified. The human form covered in the flower suit on page 33 shows that the skin can be hidden, and that art, can undo preconceived identity. No one can look at this body covered in flowers and assume anything about its 'historical self', because a flower body does not have a history. The black body on the other hand, has a deeply ingrained history from the moment he/she/they're born.

The end of the second sections leaves an open-ended question for all to ponder. What do we make of Wozniacki dressing up like Serena? Is it a playful imitation? Or is it racially charged, as we see by the stuffed bra and underwear? Are these attributes things we associate with black bodies, or Serena inparticularly?

Monday, November 20, 2017


Denver is the ultimate example of one paralyzed from slavery. She never leaves the house, well only three times she left the house because she is afraid of what’s outside that made Sethe kill Beloved or “crawling already”. She is constantly on edge around her mother because she is afraid Sethe will kill her. She is a recluse! All because of the institution of slavery.

Sethe killed Beloved because otherwise she would have had to endure slavery. She would have killed Denver and her two brothers but she didn’t get the time to kill them.

Her two brothers were so scared of Sethe that they left. They told Denver to watch out for Sethe because she might kill her. Also Denver never wants to leave the house because whatever is outside is what made Sethe kill.

Denver is isolated, paralyzed, and depleted because of slavery and it goes to show how strong Denver is when she finally steps out of the house to save Sethe and Beloved before they’re all dead.

Thursday, November 16, 2017


In the movie Trust Maria’s mom is overbearing, manipulative, and awful to Maria. However, Maria endures her mother’s wrath because Maria feels guilty and some what responsible for her mother’s behavior since her mom blames her father’s death on Maria. Because of this I saw a correlation between Maria and her mom to Beloved and Sethe.

Beloved is manipulative, impudent, and drains the life out of Sethe. Sethe deals with Beloved too because Beloved keeps reminding Sethe that she abandoned her and well she also killed her. Sethe feels guilty and sorry, so much so she continues to live with Beloved, letting her reign over her life.

Maria is Sethe and Maria’s mom is Beloved. Unhealthy relationships can be found anywhere. Everyone may have them and only once you realize and have that “ah ha” moment you can see that you may also have one.

More To Beloved

Was Beloved solely a bad character?
When Beloved came to 124 Denver was extremely lonely and stuck in the house with Sethe as pretty much her only companion. At the same time Sethe was haunted by her past, and her decision to kill baby Beloved forced everyone in the house to run away from her. Sethe had not faced her past face to face until Beloved came to 124... and made her literally have to face her past face to face. Beloved gave Denver companionship, and from that provided her with a vital missing part of her life. Then Beloved gave Sethe a daughter and a sense that the world was not just mad at her. Sethe was afraid to "lay down her sward and shield" and Beloved forced her to, thereby curing her fear of the past. Along with bringing both Denver and Sethe missing parts of their lives, by having sex with Paul D, Beloved made him furious and that outrage was something his tin heart had not been able to conjure in years.
So yes of course Beloved was an antagonist and obviously evil and manipulative... Did she only have bad intent, or was there some good in her? Or were all of these good comings just a coincidence to Beloveds true evil plans?

Thick love

"Excuse me, but I can't hear a word against her. I'll chastise her. You leave her alone.”

When Paul D says something judging Denver, Sethe’s motherly defense shows up. Sethe shares a stronger bond between her and her daughter than her and a lover. Sethe will defend Denver, and Beloved, no matter how weird a situation gets. Sethe has what Paul D calls “thick love” and though sometimes, like in this instance, defends her daughter in a pretty harmless way, that is not looking to be the case for how she is treating Beloved. Beloved brings out the “thick love” Paul D was really talking about when he found out Sethe killed her baby. Sethe did not want her baby to have to go through what she had, and “protects” her from the institution by killing her. This is a very extreme image both graphically and symbolically. Her motherly defense has, and could continue to lead to more harm than good.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017


Throughout Beloved there are many references to Christianity and religion in general. While I was reading pages 272-274 where Stamp Paid and Paul D discuss Paul’s living arrangements, I paid special attention to who Paul D was going to stay with. I noticed that during the conversation, Judy, of rather Judith, is repeated several times.

Intrigued as to why her name was repeated, I researched connections between the name Judith and religion. What I found was The Book of Judith, a novel whose exact publish year is unknown but is nonetheless very old. While the true origins of the book are also unknown, it is suspected to have first been written in either Greek or Hebrew. The Book of Judith is part of The Old Testament and the Tanakh, or the Hebrew Bible.

The story is about Judith, a brave, beautiful widow who saves her fellow prisoners from a foreign conqueror, Holofernes who deprived his prisoners of their Gods. To save herself and the others, Judith becomes a maid at the Holofernes’ camp. Soon enough, she gains the enemy’s trust and is granted permission into her conqueror’s tent at night. First, she seduced him. Next, she decapitated him. Through this bold action, she saves her people from from the his wrath.

I think that this connects to Beloved because Sethe and Judith are similar. Both women are without the help of a significant other, are characterized and strong and beautiful, and behead a constricting force. Beloved can be seen as parallel to Holofernes because both of them rob others of life. Holofernes does this through depriving his prisoners of their religion, and considering how important religion was in past, it is likely that the prisoners had symptoms similar to Sethe. Even more, the fact that they were labeled as prisoners corroborates the claim that they became lifeless as prisoners in the past were treated poorly.

There is, however, one major difference between the two stories. Sethe killed Beloved because her maternal love and Judith killed Holofernes because of his tyrannic nature. This, however leaves room for comparison. While Sethe killed because of her maternal love, she received a tyrannic attitude from Beloved. Judith killed to end a tyranny and for this, has been interpreted by some as a Mother of Israel. The fact that Paul D stayed with Judith could have allowed him to understand Sethe and why she acted how she did.  

Beloved and The Tempest

I'm in a version of Shakespeare's The Tempest right now, and I came upon a passage in Beloved that reminded me of it. Near the end of Beloved; "There is a loneliness that can be rocked. Arms crossed, knees drawn up; holding, holding on, this motion, unlike a ship's... There is a loneliness that roams... It is alive, on its own" (323).
In The Tempest, Ariel recounts the events of the tempest to Prospero. "And, as thou badest me,/ In troops I have dispersed them 'bout the isle./ The king’s son have I landed by himself,/ Whom I left cooling of the air with sighs/ In an odd angle of the isle, and sitting,/ His arms in this sad knot" (I,ii).
The parallels of water, isolation, ships, rocking, arms crossed, all of it is similar between these two texts. 
Near the end of Beloved when the first passage listed occurs, there is a definite sense of isolation because of the distance that has grown between Sethe and everyone around her: Paul D, Beloved, Denver, and her community. In isolation, self comfort, such as crossing your arms around your legs and rocking yourself is a common human reaction. Toni Morrison writes "...on its own" as a clear piece of evidence to how Sethe feels after her family has left her. 
In The Tempest, Ferdinand has also been separated from his family after the shipwreck, and is alone in a foreign place with no one to comfort him but himself. 
In both these stories, the characters in question have been on long, treacherous journeys and end up isolated, not knowing what to do. Yet, the island and Sethe's newfound perspective of freedom manifest themselves magically in both ominously and wondrously mysterious ways. And, as Ferdinand eventually finds Miranda after wandering about the island, Paul D eventually finds Sethe after looking all throughout the house. This parallels in that Ferdinand follows Ariel's song in order to get to the place Miranda is waiting, while Paul D only finds Sethe when he hears her singing the lullaby she would sing to Beloved and Denver. 
It is interesting that so many of the same symbols and plot devices are used in two classic pieces of literature even though they were written centuries apart and of completely different stories. I appreciate the sense of hope both these passages bring, however, to the perspective of being found after being isolated, that while freedom is often associated with independence, both Ferdinand and Sethe find a happier sense of freedom when they are united with other people.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Sethe's Hypocrisy

While I finally figured out exactly what went down at the end of Beloved I'm still confused about Sethe and Paul D's reuniting. Immediately it comes off as picturesque with Paul ending the chapter on a sweet line about his love for Sethe, leaving a vague feeling of rekindled romance. With Denver finally matured and Beloved, the original wedge between them, gone in a puff of smoke why wouldn't they start over again?

My issue traces back to the final conversion before Paul D left, in which he declared Sethe's love for her children "too thick". This statement clearly hurts Sethe deeply and seems to sever any feelings she may have had for him. Although she ends up getting leeched nearly to death by Beloved, there's no indication she later regrets her extreme dedication to motherhood. There was no grand realization (if we're assuming Paul D's perspective) that caused her to repent or acknowledge any fault. She appears weak at the ending but in no way seems to have changed the very values that caused her disgust towards Paul D originally. His accusation of her being too loving directly contradicts the maternal passion that seemingly still defines her character. If this is the case, then why is she willing to talk to Paul D again, or even take him back? Or maybe her willingness to accept him is an indication that she has in fact changed?

Sethe Accepted by the Community

So I’m thinking that my theory about the community and their denouncement of Sethe was pretty accurate. As soon as Beloved begins to drain the life out of Sethe and Denver ventures out, the community finally rallies together to go to 124. Ella organized a group of thirty or so people to march to 124 to confront Beloved. Based on Morrison’s description, it did not take too much convincing to get them to come together. That means that a good majority of the community truly did not harbor extreme negative opinions about Sethe. When Ella, one of the most skeptical of Sethe and her story, works through Denver’s story, making her own conclusions, she says “nobody got that coming” and “children can’t just come up and kill the mama” (301). Although she did not agree with her actions (or did she?), she did not agree with the punishment that seemed to have been put in place.

I think that part of the abandonment of 124 and Sethe had come from not only Sethe’s actions, but also Baby Suggs and her feasts causing jealousy. After Baby Suggs decided to hold a massive feast for approximately ninety people and they had a huge celebration, a lot of people held negative emotions towards her afterwards. They wondered why she was able to do such things and why they were not allowed to themselves. She had not suffered the way that they had (although in reality, I don’t think you could compare any of their suffering) and therefore did not deserve all the goodness that she had.

Even though they may have harbored some negativity towards Baby Suggs, she was, in a sense, their teacher. She told them to love and take care of themselves or else who would do it for them? So, when she died only a short time after Sethe arrived, the community was able to combine two negative events into one and they blamed and denounced Sethe.

Yet, in the end, they came together and marched to 124 where they ‘saved’ Sethe from the life-absorbing Beloved. I now have very little doubt that their negativity was for her action alone and I believe that they may have done the same if placed in the situation. At the end, they are all (eventually) able to forget about Beloved and move on with their lives. Of course, that brings the question of what/who was Beloved, but I’m going to hold off on that question. I think that the community kind of adopts a forgive and forget attitude at the end, able to leave Beloved behind, move on with their lives, and accept Sethe into the community. Toni Morrison said that Sethe’s actions were truly the highest act of love as she would rather kill them then have them live and die in slavery and I believe that there is much truth behind that.

Finally, I just want to say that I really enjoyed this novel. At the beginning, I was kind of skeptical and I was kind of confused with all the switches in point of view, but Toni Morrison is truly an amazing writer and I loved not only the story itself, but the way that it was crafted together.

Community in Beloved

There is a great amount of community in Beloved. It presents community as something that is essential for life. Baby Suggs holds these gatherings in the Clearing where she tells the men, women and children to love themselves in a physical sense. During these gatherings the women would cry, men would dance, children would laugh and they could all just be physically free in this group setting, as a community.  When Sethe experiences her first few days of freedom she becomes a part of the Cincinnati community and this was when she discovers her sense of self of as an individual. But the Cincinnati community also played a more negative role as well. When the community failed in alerting Sethe about the schoolteacher, that was ultimately the cause of the death of Sethe's daughter. These events display the importance of community for survival.

The Concept of Beloved

After Beloved appears out of the water and is received by Sethe and Denver, the book gives you many context clues as to who she is. They describe her as being in her late teens, or early adulthood, yet her skin is flawless. She doesn't even have any wrinkles on her knuckles. She looks brand new. Additionally, their dog called Here Boy immediately scurries away in fear. This can be explained by the treatment the dog received at the beginning of the book. Sethe recalls when Here Boy is thrown against the wall of their house by Beloved in her ghost form. So it's pretty for the dog to be afraid of Beloved and want to run away. However, there are multiple points about the book and Beloved that honestly confuse me as this book is unraveling.

How does is take Sethe such a long time to realize that this girl is her daughter? And additionally, if she didn't know for that long, why did she take care of a complete stranger like she was her own? Maybe she hoped that this daughter, and unconsciously knew the truth before she actually figured it out. And while there is no way Sethe would be able to recognize the girl, since she lost Beloved at such a young age, there were multiple clues other than the dog and the new skin to realize that this was no average girl.

Is this actually Beloved? Or is this going to be one of those books where you find out at the end that Sethe ending up going insane from her extremely traumatic past, and has been hallucinating her life every since, and that Denver either left her years ago or died, and Beloved is just another hallucination that haunts her from her past? This could be one of those stories where Beloved is basically just a symbol or theme for something bigger then herself, and she was never there in the first place. Just thoughts, you know?

The Torture Devices of Slavery

Slavery was a terrible time for the Africans that were enslaved. To make it even worse, the slave owners used tools, that were more like torture devices, to keep the slaves in the animal mindset. One such tool was a bit. It was an iron mask that allowed the slave to breathe but disallowed them to eat the sugar cane that they were picking. The slaves would work with this cover on of hours in the sun. The mask would become so hot that when it got pulled off their skin would come with. This is exceptionally gruesome to imagine, and gut-wrenchingly terrible. Another bit has a metal tongue piece that was held in a metal ring that can tighten. This disables the ability to speak to the other slaves. While wearing these, slaves were repeatedly whipped and worked to death. With these torture devices, it only made it worse for them.

How (or what) is exactly Beloved?

At first read into the novel Beloved, many readers may seem satisfied with the notion that Beloved is merely just Sethe's baby's ghost taking a human form. Even the characters in the book seem to believe that Beloved is just a ghost transformed back into a human. However, at closer examination (and knowing how Toni Morrison seems to always leave a deeper meaning to characters and motifs in her novels), one really questions what Beloved is exactly.

It's clear that some may strongly agree that Beloved is just a physical representation of a ghost because the book explicitly states that. There is even textual evidence that Beloved could potentially be just a "regular" ghost taking shape in a "regular" human. For example, the fact that once Paul D appears into Sethe's life, Beloved's ghost magically disappears, and the house lacks its haunting qualities as a result. Also the fact that once the house seems to be rid of any sort of spiritual forces, Beloved (as a human) arrives onto the steps of 124.

But yet, there is textual evidence that refutes the idea that Beloved is just Sethe's baby's ghost taken human form. Take into consideration the passage when Beloved is recounting her past, and how she originally showed up onto the steps of 124. She mentions "men with no skin", and while yes, they are supposed to represent white men, couldn't these "men without skin", also represent skeletons? After all, skeletons literally don't have any skin. In addition, Beloved mentions dead men on her face. Again, yes, this could be symbolic of the millions of men and women that have died during the Middle Passage, but they also could represent the deceased spirits who have traveled to hell, purgatory, or the underworld. With this under consideration, what if Beloved is more than just a ghost? What if Beloved is something darker and more ghoulish, like a demon of some sort?

Similarly, what if Beloved isn't just a ghost or demon or spiritual force, but an embodiment of Sethe's traumatizing experiences as a slave and guilt for killing her baby girl? Even when taking into consideration the ending of the book when Beloved is getting bigger and bigger while Sethe is getting frailer and frailer. This simple statement could symbolize Sethe's guilt and trauma eating her up, and her inability to cope with them. As they get gain more control of not only her life, but also her thoughts, Sethe is seen getting weaker and unable to fight them any longer.

Essentially, Beloved could potentially be something much greater than just a ghost taking a human form. Beloved could really be anything, given the perspective of the situation and what you believe she is.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Slavery and Seeing Ghosts

When we got Beloved in class, I glanced at the back of the book summary and learned that the novel is set in the 1800's when slavery was still in full swing. What I would soon learn is that this book is about so much more than conquering and living through slavery. There's another huge element of the book that makes it even more intriguing; the fact that Sethe and her family are being hunted by a ghost. And not just any ghost, the ghost of her dead baby that she murdered. To me, this added a whole new layer of interest to Beloved.

My grandparents and most of my cousins live in California so since I've been five, my family has usually flown out during the summer to see them. There's a certain village called Old Town because it's one of the oldest parts of San Diego. They have an old fashioned candy store and then also a lot more modern shops and restaurants on the surrounding streets. Shopping and eating are fun but my favorite part of the day is going to the Whaley House.

The Whaley House is ranked as one of the most famous haunted houses in America and I can personally vouch that that title is well deserved. The house was designed by Thomas Whaley and then built in 1855 when he moved his wife, Anna, and their six children there to live. A few months after moving, their youngest child, still an infant, Thomas Jr., died of Scarlet Fever. And that was just the beginning of bad omens for the Whaley's. People have claimed to hear a baby wailing or have said they see the baby's old cradle moving on tours.

As it happens, the house was cursed from the beginning. Built on the site where a man named Yankee Jim Robinson, a man infamous in San Diego for lying and stealing, was hung, his ghost is said to haunt the house since the Whaley's moved in. Violet Whaley, one of the oldest daughters, committed suicide in their outhouse by shooting herself with her father's gun. By the time her father ran out and brought her inside, she had already died. Some say they see a young women dressed in older fashioned clothes disappear in mid air or get hit by a wave of absolute despair when near the outhouse. It is assumed that she suffered from severe clinical depression and spiraled when her fiance left her, turning out to be a con man just wanting her money. I've caught multiple orbs (circular balls of energy that in the right context, can represent a ghost)  by the outhouse when it's too dark to be dust or anything my phone created.

Since I was 9 or 10, I've always had a connection with the house. From seeing apparitions appear in front of me to feeling the Whaley's dog brush against my leg, I've always experienced something that my brother and mother never have. I've even caught orbs on camera in places where I felt an energy draw to me. Clearly I believe in ghosts and while it may sound crazy, I have always felt a connection to the "other side."

When we dove into the possible theory that Beloved could be Sethe's baby reincarnated and learned about the whole plot of the ghost that haunts her house, it immediately caught my attention. I really like how Morrison added this to the plot because it adds another layer to the novel that you don't usually read about in books set during slavery or about slavery. Whether you're a skeptic or a fully fledged believer, I think this element to the story line makes the book even more unique and intriguing than it already is.

Orb in the lower right corner

Orb by the outhouse in middle left corner

The white area that looks like Thomas Whaley


In Beloved, there are many notable themes, but it is the theme of the home that is most interesting to me. The theme of the home might be the largest of the themes in the novel, but it also appears to be the most overlooked. Morrison finds a way to fit 124, Sweet Home, and the ever-changing location of the characters into her definition of home. Even though Sweet Home feels the least like home, it plays a heavy part in almost every character's life, though usually filled with poor memories. It is 124, where a large portion of the book takes place, and this is a location that is most memorable for Sethe and Denver. 124 and Sweet Home are two physical examples of home, but the ever-changing location of the main characters manages to play a minor role in the story.  This is also the only portrayal of home that does not involve some version of haunting. Sweet Home provides multiple characters with haunting memories, while 124 is haunted by Baby Suggs.
 Sethe and Denver unsuccessfully attempt to determine Beloved origins. As they question Beloved about her past continues to give them short responses, telling that she only remembers a white man, a bridge, and being taken away from her mother. Going forward, Sethe believes that she is an abused women, while Denver believing that she is a reincarnation of her dead sister's ghost. But Denver believes that after her disappearance and reappearance that it is something more that just her sisters reincarnation. Who is Beloved Truly ?

Past as Process

As seen by Sethe and the way she experiences the external world around her, the past is consistently enveloping her to the point where it may be debilitating. When she goes to the Clearing to try and make sense of her life and revisit what used to be, she finds herself getting choked by the "ghost of Baby Suggs". Many may consider this as an actual ghost, but it could also represent the nature of her hostile past coming back again and again, and finally striking.
Of course, this was not the first time Sethe's past has revisited her at all hours of the day. However, this is a scene to note because it further exemplifies the idea that the past is always following us. It does not stay in the period of time in which it was born, and is not a passive agent in life. Rather, it is an active agent that helps people develop into who they become.
The remaining question is, who will Sethe ultimately become, and how is her past a more aggressive, active agent than Paul D or Beloved? When the past is constantly up her sleeves, we can only assume this isn't the only time Sethe's past will take a physical toll.

Being a Slave

I think the most interesting part of Beloved, is Sethe. It's definitely unusual to see a black woman tell her truth about slavery. Sethe buries all of the pain and hurt she felt during slavery and now it's all being brought back up. I think the abuse of black women, especially during that time gets often overlooked; which is terrible considering they were constantly abused. I kind of wish that it was only told through Sethe and no one else. Sethe can explain the sexual abuse and the neglect, and that's what I'm interested in. Black women in general don't get their story told enough, and I think if this book focused only on her, I would enjoy it more.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Beloved and the Importance of Sadness

The other day, I overheard a conversation about Beloved. A substitute teacher said that she read the book several times, but stopped because she couldn't find the "joy" in it. I mostly just confused, because Beloved is the last book I would ever read if I was looking for a happy read. But I also thought, why am I reading it (besides being required to, of course)? Why read a book that's so relentlessly depressing?

The truth is, most of the books hailed as the most important and influential are incredibly depressing. This isn't always the case; some of my favorite books have happy endings–but even so, they're never happy without a cost. Beloved, though, is on a whole new level of sad. Partially, though, that's what makes the book so amazing.

If Beloved were a happy book, it would lose most of its power. This is mostly because of its subject: slavery. It's always tempting, when learning about a horrific subject, to try to look for some glimmer of hope. Unfortunately, this can lead to the spreading of misconceptions about that subject. If we are taught happy stories about slavery, then why would we think slavery was that bad? This is true even if the story paints those suffering as overcoming. We often hear stories about the slaves escaping to the North, but not about the suffering they were still forced to endure even after finding freedom.

I don't believe that a story can't have any happiness to be worthwhile, but I do believe that an entirely happy story with no conflict isn't much of a story. I also believe that when it comes to real-life events, tragedies should be shown as unbearable as they truly were.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Ella's Beef

One part of the recent reading that stood out to me was when the audience was reading from the point of view of Stamp Paid. After he tells Paul D that Sethe had killed the baby, Paul D leaves the house without a goodbye and spends weeks sleeping in the church basement. Ella says he did not ask for help, so she didn't give it, and Stamp Paid is appalled. Frankly, I was too, and I empathized with his not being able to understand how a christian would not offer help to someone who needed it just because they didn't ask for it, particularly since Stamp Paid and Ella had spent years helping slaves escape across the Ohio River. So, my question is, why wouldn't Ella reach out?
Is it because Paul D had been involved with Sethe? Ella clearly has harsh feelings toward Sethe, along with nearly everyone else, for murdering her child. However, Paul D demonstrated the same fear and disgust by leaving when he heard the news, so his previous relations with Sethe being the reason doesn't really hold up.
Is it because, as Ella reveals in her conversation with Stamp Paid, that she knows about Beloved having moved in? I doubt she knows Beloved is the ghost of the dead baby, because not even Sethe realized that until she had spent quite a long time around her. Additionally, in that argument, Paul D hates Beloved, so that doesn't hold up either.
As a christian whose job is to help other black people in need, why, in this case, does she not?

Beloved and Ghosts from Outer Space

Morrison’s treatment of supernatural elements, especially the character of Beloved, bears a close resemblance to Stanislaw Lem’s 1961 science fiction novel Solaris. Lem describes a crew of researches from Earth fruitlessly trying to establish communication with a telepathic alien organism - a living ocean covering the surface of planet Solaris. After the scientists turn to more radical methods of stimulating the ocean, the organism responds by materializing replicas of people from the crew members’ individual repressed traumatic memories. In nearly every aspect, Beloved’s nature seems much closer to those replicants than to traditional folklore ghosts. Just like the Solaris replicants, Beloved doesn’t have a past. She has no memory, and hence identity, of her own, separate from Sethe’s. Also, just like the replicants, Beloved can’t physically bear to be separated from her host. Beloved was even spawned from the water, just like the mirages of Solaris.

Writing the character of Beloved, Morrison could have drawn inspiration from Solaris, since the novel’s first translation into English in 1970 received fairly wide recognition. But the similarities might also be incidental, since Morrison and Lem crafted their analogous supernatural creatures as physical metaphors for similar psychological phenomena. They represent, in terms of psychoanalysis, autonomous complexes: systems of memories, emotions, and thoughts repressed from the conscious, but continuing to independently affect a person’s psyche. Beloved, as before her materialization did the ghost of 124, is a tangible force that uncontrollably influences Sethe’s personal identity as well as her interactions with others. The symbol of the ocean, or water, may also be explained in terms of psychoanalysis as the archetype of the unconscious. Yet, it seems that unlike the Solaris replicas, Beloved possesses some sort of agency, altering Sethe’s life not simple by the mere fact of her presence, but sometimes by active effort. She also meaningfully interacts with other characters, like Denver and Paul D. Although the similarities between the supernatural in Beloved and Solaris seem obvious, the few but important differences that there are make me wonder if this comparison limits the range of Beloved’s character to a narrower framework than Morrison intended. Can Beloved be reduced to a mere psychological function of Sethe’s mind, or does she have an even greater significance in the novel?

Friday, November 10, 2017

Stereotyping Beloved

The reason I like Beloved is because there are no stereotypes involved. All the characters are complex, contradictory and all the interactions are tense, longing and real.

For instance, from the beginning it is clear that Denver is lonely. She has no friends, spends all her time in 124, and is jealous of Paul D for attracting the attention of her mother. However, she is simultaneously afraid of her mother, her only companion, and really longs for her father.

Furthermore, it is clear that Sethe is strong willed and independent. She runs away from Sweet Home and gives birth on the road with only the help of Amy, a white girl. But she is also overcome with memories that threaten her sanity. She is a loving mother but she is also a murderer.

The community that Sethe, her children, and Baby Suggs live in is one of unity and tight bonds. Stamp Paid says that he never has to knock at most doors before he goes on in. But it is also one of jealousy and hurt: when they see how well-off Sethe's family is they don't warn them about the four white people coming to kidnap.

I think that this book helps to reveal the many nuances in people and in life. I think that if you passionately hate a group of people, be they a minority, a political group, a religion, then you are mistaken or misinformed. People are not simple enough to be characterized as evil or good. Binaries like these are social constructs that create dangerous simplifications. They get rid of the reason to try to understand people individually. They get rid of any need for critical thought or analysis. They make it easy to hate. When we recognize that people are difficult to comprehend we open up a place for them to be the one defining and not the defined.


One of the most interesting parts of Beloved and something I like the most about the book is how it is told from the slave's perspective, as opposed to a white person's. Most books are from a white person's perspective- Huckleberry Finn for example, and I think that while they are talking about slavery, it is much more powerful for the slave to tell their own story. rather than how the white people see them. In Beloved, when the perspective turns to the white person for a little bit,  you can see how they look down on the people you have gotten to know so well. For example, how the slave catcher, schoolteacher, and the nephew, look at Sethe, Baby Suggs, and Stamp Paid as crazy and wild when we, the audience, have gotten to hear their stories and the hardships they've gone through. We have gotten to know them as very strong, powerful people. This change in perspective was very powerful for me, and, for this reason, this is my favorite book I have read about slavery and the time period so far.

Chronology in Beloved

I find it really interesting,  although confusing, how Morrison intentionally leaves the order of events vague, or references things that the characters know, but no the reader. For example, when Sethe still thinks Amy is a white boy, she is scared "that he too still had mossy teeth, an appetite." (38)

Sethe often fazes in and out of being in the present and flashbacks, which makes the reader experience what is happening to her, an ugly blend of the present and her horrible past, not fully sure which is which. Denver seamlessly goes from her own memories to Sethe's, without particularly distinguishing between them, showing how she bases so much of herself on the past that she considers some of Sethe's memories to be just as much hers as her mother's.

Ice Skating With a Ghost

At the beginning of part II of Beloved,  Sethe goes ice skating with Denver and Beloved. This experience becomes an important moment for Sethe's character development. It also speaks to the speaks to the value of relationships and how a community does not have to define you.  

This moment is one of strength for Sethe. She find that even with the issues in her life from the ghost of the baby and the way the town has treated her after what she did she can find enjoyment and fun in life. Additionally, she begins to realize that Beloved could be, through some mystery, her dead daughter reborn. This realization makes Sethe hopeful for a future on her own terms.

The bond that this experience creates among the two younger women is also important. Dever's crisis of trying to find her own identity is partially resolved through Beloved who provides the companionship that she needs to help form it.

Masculinity in Beloved pt. 2

My last blog post was about Paul D's "a man ain't a goddamn ax" comment, and his surprisingly progressive take on masculinity. As I was reading further, I found a contradiction to this statement.

Paul D is describing how frustrating it is to lose control to Beloved, and how it strips his masculinity. He says, "because he was a man and a man could do what he would: be still for six hours in a dry well while night dropped; fight raccoon with his hands and win; watch another man, whom he loved better than his brothers, roast without a tear just so the roasters would know what a man is like."

I sighed  a little when I read this, shaking my head. Oh, Paul D. The concept of masculinity is going to follow us, no matter what. Paul D can stand up to Sethe about Halle not "acting like a man," but it seems he is unable to stand up to himself. He still holds himself to a manly standard, forcing himself to not feel, not express fear, be aggressive. He has internalized the messages of what is a man, and these have spread everywhere back in those times, without media or the Internet. Now, we have infinite forms of simple mass communication to get our messages across, and too often those messages contain gender standards that have infatuated all of us, to some extent.

Spark notes is Clutch

Reading Beloved is Hard.  I have trouble staying focused and then I miss important events in the book.  I did the reading the first few nights and just read, and when we talked about it in class, I thought something completely different than actually happened.  After I did that for a few days, I decided to read the spark notes along with the reading, and it is very helpful. 

At first, I was so confused and had no idea who any of the characters were or what was happening in the class, and now I know what is going on and understand what happens in class, and it makes it a lot easier for me.  That is why spark notes is clutch.

Chamomille in Beloved

Near the beginning of the novel, the smell and sap of chamomile are mentioned several times during Paul D and Sethe's reunion. While it is a minor detail, I feel as though too much emphasis was put on it for it not to be significant. It is first mentioned when Sethe runs to the water pump, and begins to wash the sap off of her using the water pump. She explains that she was covered in it because she was careless and had taken a shortcut through a field. Here, chamomile represents the mistakes of her past, and the water pump is her penance. Although is literally representative of the moment she is in, it could also refer to the mistakes of her past, like her attempt on her children's lives. This is even more significant in that chamomile is known to be associated with miscarriages when consumed during pregnancy, and Sethe killed the child that remained unnamed. Without her name, she never went through traditional birth customs, and in a way could be symbolically never born. Therefore, it is almost as if Sethe washes away the sins of her Beloved's murder at the water pump.

But despite the fact that she washed herself of sin, Paul D sings about their meeting and describes Sethe as still having the sap on her legs, as though he himself had not accepted that she washed herself of it. This is shown later when Sethe confesses what happened. Sethe defends herself as justified in doing so, but Paul D is unable to see her the same way, and leaves. Although it is a bit far fetched, it is possible that Morrison intended chamomile to be a symbol of sin.