Showing 111 - 120 of 298 annotations contributed by Aull, Felice
The setting is the children's ward of a hospital in Paterson, N.J. during the Great Depression. Alternating between a cynicism born of desperation, and empathetic concern, the physician-narrator describes the sorry condition of his young patients, virtually abandoned by their parents. He muses that they would be better off left untreated so that they would not have to live the inevitably wretched lives ahead of them.
One child in particular has captured his attention. She is Jean Beicke, an eleven month old, malnourished, deformed girl suffering acutely from broncho-pneumonia. The nurses and he look after her, and she responds to their care by taking nourishment and gaining weight. This is tremendously rewarding and reinforces their interest in her, but to their consternation she continues to be very ill. "We did everything we knew how to do except the right thing." "Anyhow she died." The benumbed mother is persuaded to allow an autopsy; the physician wants to understand what went wrong although he "never can quite get used to an autopsy."
The postmortem uncovers an infection of the mastoid process which has spread to the brain. The narrator and the "ear man" berate themselves for having failed to take proper steps to identify and treat the infection. In the end, however, the physician is still unable to resolve the dilemma of wanting passionately to have saved his patient's life, and knowing that the life saved would have been one of misery.
This disturbing story is told from the view point of Sheppard, widowed for more than a year, and left to raise his ten year old son, Norton. Both are struggling to cope with the grief of this loss, but Sheppard seems incapable of recognizing and responding to his son’s feelings and believes they should both occupy themselves by doing good deeds for others. Sheppard is a volunteer counselor at the local reformatory and prides himself on "helping boys no one else cared about."
He is impatient and insensitive toward his own son, however, and instead has become fixated on one of the reformatory boys, Rufus, an impoverished, fatherless teenager whose mother is in prison. Rufus was born with a club foot and has been brought up roughly by a fanatically religious grandfather. Convinced that Rufus can be salvaged because he has a high I.Q., Sheppard makes Rufus his pet project, devoting to him all of his attention and energy, in spite of the fact that Rufus wants no part of it. Indeed, the boy is a defiant conniver who fends for himself by stealing. He has worked out a complex ethic in which he is convinced that he is under "Satan’s" power to do evil but "the lame shall enter [heaven] first" and all sins will ultimately be forgiven. Sheppard’s do-gooder social atheism infuriates Rufus.
A telescope becomes the vehicle for the tragic culmination of Sheppard’s self-deception, Rufus’s vindictive scorn, and Norton’s severe depression. Rejecting the gift of this telescope which Sheppard bought for Rufus so that he could "see the universe" and be "enlightened," Rufus persuades the impressionable Norton that he will find his mother in the heavens with the scope and could join her there were he to die young. Too late, Sheppard realizes how misdirected his love and concern have been: Norton has hanged himself.
In these "narrative recollections" poet Gary Soto reflects on his Mexican American childhood in the ethnically mixed laboring-class neighborhoods of Fresno, California. His was a life lived at the margins--economic margins and cultural margins. In these recollections of family relationships, youthful mischief-making, farm and factory jobs, adolescent rebellion, and the transition to professional writing Soto subtly and humorously draws our attention to the discontinuities between the lived lives of Chicanos and Anglos.
"The Beauty Contest" describes how young Gary entered his younger half-brother in a playground beauty contest. "Strong build, a chipped tooth, half Mexican and half white--he might win, I thought." (43) Gary knows that only a lighter complexioned child could meet the Anglo standards of beauty that prevail. In fact, he has internalized those standards himself: " . . . we were awed by the blond and fair skinned kids in good clothes. They looked beautiful, I thought." We are led to infer that the Anglo contestants come from a world of comfort and parental attentiveness whereas Gary has been left on his own to tend to his brother while his parents are away at their work of manual labor.
In "Looking for Work" Gary wanted to imitate the Anglo families of the television programs that he continually watched. He tried to convince his siblings to wear shoes to dinner and improve their appearance so that "[w]hite people would like us more." (26) In "1,2,3," Soto reconstructs the shocking vindictiveness of an Anglo father after his young daughter falls off of a swing that is being pushed by Gary's Chicana friend, Rosie. Soto ends this piece, "I wanted to . . . explain that it was a mistake; that we also fell from the swings and the bars and got hurt . . . ." (15)
Soto foregrounds violence as an integral part of his childhood. The lead-off sketch, "Being Mean," recounts childhood pranks involving the setting of fires and abuse of pets. But this violence also included and was a response to verbal violence from others, such as being called "dirty Mexicans." (3) "Bloodworth" chronicles the evolution from fisticuffs--"all through elementary and junior high school, it was bob and weave, jab and stick" (95)--to the more controlled violence of the high school wrestling team.
Soto tells of his back-breaking farm laboring and factory jobs in "One Last Time" and "Black Hair." There is no romance in these episodes, "no grace" (124) in the miserable conditions, and no comfort. Rather, there is always the fear that he will forever have to "work Mexican hours, and in the end die a Mexican death, broke and in despair." (123)
Chicano poet Gary Soto explores his own uncertain status in relation to his family, and to the larger society. Detailing the "evolution" of his siblings and cousins, who "were no longer Mexican rednecks," but "held down jobs" and "stopped jamming parking meters for free time," the poet describes how his family nevertheless feels uncomfortable about him: "My family feared that I had evolved too far."
Drunken Christmas horseplay with his brothers reveals their distaste and distrust of his intellectualism and sophisticated clothes. "They tore my book in half, / and stripped me of my Italian belt." Only when they have succeeded in making him sick-drunk do they accept him (at least temporarily) back into the family fold.
Soto describes an incident that occurred when he was a factory worker in a plant that employed Mexican illegals. When the border patrol raided the plant, the boss assumed that Soto--a brown skinned Mexican-American--was also an illegal. Soto "shouted that I was American" but the boss didn't believe him, and Soto was forced to run away along with the others.
"I ran from that industrial road to the soft / Houses where people paled at the turn of an autumn sky." The "amazed crowds" watched as these aliens ran through their neighborhood--"jogged" in the parlance of the well-to-do for whom running means leisure activity. As Soto runs past the white suburbanites, he salutes them, embracing the symbols of America --"baseball, milkshakes"--and comments wryly on the sociologists for whom he is another statistic in the assimilation process.
The speaker remembers his childhood in which "[w]e were sentenced to watch / The rich on TV --." While the sitcom characters (the Donna Reed Show, Ozzie and Harriet) played golf, ate steak, and dressed fashionably, the speaker and his friends tried to relate the television lives to their own. The disparity between what they saw on television and what they saw every day at home was enormous, required a different dictionary: "While he swung, we hoed / Fields flagged with cotton . . . . "
The poet returns to the present. For many life is relatively luxurious--" Piano lessons for this child, / Braces for that one . . . . " But watch out--when there's a power failure and the lights go off " . . . in this town, / a storefront might / Be smashed, . . . And if someone steps out / With a black and white TV, / its because we love you Donna, / we miss you Ozzie."
Subtitled "My Journey through Autism," Prince-Hughes's memoir leads the reader through a poetic, at times mystical, journey from "being a wild thing out of context" (1) to finding a way to understand the world and live "in context" (11). The author, an anthropologist, has Asperger's syndrome. Prince-Hughes explains that Asperger's is a form of autism in which the individual develops "age-appropriate" language and cognitive skills as well as "self-help skills" and curiosity about the environment but has marked difficulties with social interaction and shows the obsessive, ritualistic behavior similar to other autistic individuals.
As the author relates, her poor social skills, discomfort with physical closeness, sensory sensitivities (to touch and odors for example) and other odd behaviors annoyed her instructors and triggered taunts and even physical abuse from classmates and acquaintances. She describes her misery one such day when she was confronted by an impatient teacher: "I often couldn't take in people as whole entities, even when I was relatively relaxed . . . I was caught in a whirlwind of horrible sensory information and unrelenting criticism" (43).
Getting through each day was filled with emotional pain and suffering, and required a tremendous expenditure of energy in usually unsuccessful attempts to "fit in." Complicating her social isolation was the gradual recognition that her adolescent sexuality was somewhat blunted or, if anything, inclined toward lesbianism. She began drinking (alcohol) in the seventh grade. At 16 she left school and home, embarking on a long period of alcoholism, drug dependence, a "hippie" lifestyle and outright homelessness.
Prince-Hughes had always found refuge in nature, but later she also took pleasure in the physical activity of dancing, becoming a club performer in Seattle. During time off one day, she packed lunch and ate it at the zoo. She spent three hours watching the gorillas. "It was so subtle and steady that I felt like I was watching people for the first time in my whole life . . . Free from acting, free from the oppression that comes with brash and bold sound, blinding stares and uncomfortable closeness that mark the talk of human people. In contrast, these people spoke softly, their bodies poetic, their faces and dance poetic, spinning conversations out of the moisture and perfume, out of the ground and out of the past. They were like me" (93).
Thus began the author's profound relationship and identification with gorillas, an interaction that changed her life, resulting eventually in scholarly work and a Ph.D. in interdisciplinary anthropology, a faculty appointment, and gradual understanding of her own neuroatypical condition, not diagnosed as Asperger's until she was 36 years old.
Yoshino has written a book that is both treatise and memoir. Taking his cue from Erving Goffman's introduction of the term "covering" (in Stigma: Notes on the Management of Spoiled Identity), Yoshino writes from his own experience as a young gay Japanese American who is also a lawyer and scholar at Yale University. Covering, Yoshino proposes, is "to tone down a disfavored identity to fit into the mainstream" (ix). He identifies three historical and individual stages of dealing with disfavored identity: conversion, in which the individual and/or society try to transform an identity to render it more acceptable (for example, attempts to convert homosexuals into heterosexuals); passing, in which the individual hides the undesirable identity to a greater or lesser extent depending on circumstances; and covering, in which the individual openly acknowledges the undesirable identity but suppresses behavioral aspects of the identity that could draw unwelcome attention (for example, a gay male publicly holding hands with or kissing another gay male).
The author discusses these concepts specifically with relevance to his gay identity in part one of the book, detailing how he went through these three phases himself. Part two elaborates on racial and sex-based covering, and part three discusses Civil Rights and legal issues that surround covering. Yoshino argues that contemporary American society imposes covering on certain groups--gays, blacks, women, disabled people, Jews, Asian Americans--and ultimately in some manner on everyone. The bases for this imposition are pressures to conform and to assimilate. He identifies "covering axes: appearance ( . . . 'I own brown suede bucks'); affiliation ('I listen to National Public Radio . . . '); activism ('I do not mind how white television casts are . . . '); and association (' . . . I married a white woman')" (125).
Beyond that, according to the author, our laws and their interpretation by the Supreme Court "instruct the mainstream to ignore [difference] and the outsider group to mute it" (182). This is an inevitable result of the great pluralism of contemporary society--the courts cannot protect all separate groups that exist.
In the final chapter Yoshino proposes a new paradigm for Civil Rights: universal liberty (rather than equality among groups) based on "our common humanity." This paradigm would allow individuals to live "authentically" and in good psychological health. Yoshino invokes the concept of health proposed by theorist, D. W. Winnicott: living according to one's "True Self" while the "False Self" "is reduced to a 'polite and mannered social attitude,' a tool available to the fully realized True Self" (185).
Franklin Hata, comfortably retired from his medical supply business, reflects on his life--a life that spans several continents, three cultures (ethnic Korean brought up in Japan and emigrating in adulthood to the U.S.), service as a medic in World War II (in the Imperial Army of Japan), adoptive fatherhood, and a fizzled out romance with a well-to-do suburban Caucasian widow. At first out of place in the wealthy New York suburb where he settled, Hata has worked hard to achieve acceptance there, taking pains to fit in, creating no disturbances, never complaining, even when provoked by thoughtless schoolchildren or narrow minded adults.
The major disappointment of his adult life has been his tempestuous relationship with his adopted mixed-race daughter, Sunny, who left his home to live on her own when only a teenager. Even failed parenthood, however, has been absorbed by Hata. For although Hata claims that he had always wished to "pass through with something more than a life of gestures," (299) in fact he has labored to maintain equilibrium with a carefully designed "gesture life" of daily routine and superficial social niceties.
In the idleness of retirement and the solitude of his large, empty Tudor home, disturbing memories impinge on these routines and force a re-evaluation of his life and his relationship with the estranged Sunny. As a young medic during World War II, Hata had undergone an emotional and moral crisis when he fell in love with one of the Korean "comfort women" brought into his care in the Japanese army camp (in Burma) to which he was assigned. In the midst of rape and murder, Hata had to make choices, and these choices he can no longer justify to himself.
Further, he comes to understand that his relationship with his daughter has been colored by those long ago events. "In a way, it was a kind of ignoring that I did, an avoidance of her as Sunny -- difficult, rash, angry Sunny -- which I masked with a typical performance of consensus building and subtle pressure, which always is the difficult work of attempting to harmonize one's life and the lives of those whom one cherishes." (284)
Primo Levi was imprisoned at the Auschwitz concentration camp in 1944. He survived the experience, probably in part because he was a trained chemist and as such, useful to the Nazis. Soon after the war ended, he wrote several books about his experience. The Drowned and the Saved, however, was written 40 years later and is the work of memory and reflection not only on the original events, but also on how the world has dealt with the Holocaust in the intervening years. Fundamental to his purpose is the fear that what happened once can happen (and in some respects, has happened) again.
Chapter 1, "The Memory of the Offense," dissects out the vagaries of memory, rejection of responsibility, denial of unacceptable trauma and out and out lying among those who were held to account by tribunals as well as among the victimized. Levi does not spare himself: "This very book is drenched in memory . . . it draws from a suspect source and must be protected against itself" (34). Even so, he insists, memory and the historical record are crucial to combating Nazi assumptions that their deeds would go unnoticed (they were destroying the evidence), or disbelieved.
In "The Gray Zone" (2) Levi challenges the tendency to over-simplify and gloss over unpleasant truths of the inmate hierarchy that inevitably developed in the camps, and that was exacerbated by the Nazi methodology of singling some out for special privileges. He outlines the coercive conditions that cause people to become so demoralized that they will harm each other just to survive. (And when they refused to collaborate, they were killed and immediately replaced.)
Chapter 3, " Shame," is, in my opinion, the most profound and moving section of the book. Levi begins it by discussing a phenomenon that occurred following liberation from the camps: many who had been incarcerated committed suicide or were profoundly depressed. This Levi attributes to shame and feelings of guilt. "Coming out of the darkness, one suffered because of the reacquired consciousness of having been diminished . . . Our moral yardstick had changed [while in the camps]" (75). Beyond that, there is the sense that "each one of us (but this time I say 'us' in a . . . universal sense) has usurped his neighbor's place and lived in his stead" (81-82).
In the concentration camp, says Levi, it was usually "the selfish, the violent, the insensitive, the collaborators of the 'gray zone,' the spies" who survived ["the saved"] while the others did not ["the drowned"] (82). Only the drowned could know the totality of the concentration camp experience, but they cannot testify; hence, the saved must do their best to render it. Since Levi was one of those saved, he is "in permanent search of a justification . . . " and although he feels compelled to bear witness, he does not consider doing so sufficient justification for having survived. In this chapter Levi also discusses why inmates did not commit suicide during their incarceration:" . . . suicide is an act of man and not of the animal . . . because of the constant imminence of death there was no time to concentrate on the idea of death" (76).
"Communicating" (4) deals with the emotional and practical consequences of not being able to understand the German commands of the captors, or the conversation of the mostly German speaking prisoners (Levi was Italian but spoke some German). Levi also describes the additional suffering of those who were cut off from all communication with friends and family. "Useless Violence" (5) gives examples of how the Nazis tormented their prisoners with "stupid and symbolic violence."
In "The Intellectual in Auschwitz" (6) Levi speculates about how and in what circumstances being educated or cultured was a help or hindrance to coping with the situation. In this chapter he considers also whether religious belief was useful or comforting, concluding that believers "better resisted the seduction of power [resisted collaborating]" (145) and were less prone to despair. Levi, however, was never a believer, although he admits to having almost prayed for help once, but caught himself because "one does not change the rules of the game at the end of the match, not when you were losing" (146).
Chapter 7, "Stereotypes," addresses those who question why many concentration camp inmates or ghetto inhabitants did not attempt to escape or rebel, and why many German Jews remained in Germany during Hitler's ascendance. As in all the other chapters of his book, Levi discusses the complexity of these situations. "Letters from Germans" summarizes his correspondence with Germans who read his earlier books. The book ends ("Conclusion") with the exhortation that "It happened, therefore it can happen again . . . " (199).