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Heroes and Saints

Moraga, Cherríe

Last Updated: Dec-14-2006
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Plays

Genre: Play

Summary:

This searing play takes place in California's central valley where Mexican immigrants are employed at survival wages to work in fields poisoned by pesticides. Their ramshackle government homes are built over dumps where toxic waste poisons the water. The community has suffered a high incidence of cancer--especially in children--, birth defects, and other illnesses related to long-term intake of toxic substances.

One of the main characters, Cerezita, has only half a body, and often occupies center stage encased in an altar-like contraption where only her head shows. She turns pages, points, and performs other basic functions with tongue and teeth. She is a prophetic figure, willing to see and speak, because seeing and speaking are all she can do, and to name the evils that others prefer to call the will of God.

She seeks and finds intellectual companionship in the local priest who is struggling to find an appropriate way to minister to a parish divided among disillusioned cynics turned alcoholic, pious women who want nothing to do with politics, and the angry young, including one young homosexual who feels driven to leave a loving but uncomprehending family, and reveals to the priest that he has AIDS.

The community has been involved in recent protests that consist of hanging the bodies of recently deceased children on crosses in the fields. This dramatic protest has caused public outrage and attracted media attention. The play culminates in a protest in which Cerezita and the priest are shot down and the young man with AIDS cries out for the community to burn the fields. The curtain falls on burning vineyards.

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Annie on My Mind

Garden, Nancy

Last Updated: Dec-14-2006
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel for Young Adults

Summary:

Liza Winthrop, 17, first meets Annie Kenyon, also 17, at the Metropolitan Art Museum in New York, where she's gone to work on an assignment. Both Liza and Annie are avid museum browsers. Both love medieval lore and history and both have a flare for the dramatic. They are instantly drawn to each other, and their friendship grows quickly and deeply.

Liza attends an exclusive prep school, Annie a public high school in a working class area where she lives with her Italian immigrant family. Liza is student body president and a much respected leader. As the relationship deepens, both girls begin to realize with some trepidation that there's a dimension to it they didn't expect. Annie realizes before Liza that their attraction is sexual as well as spiritual. Liza finds she has some hard thinking and reading to do about homosexuality.

Their relationship becomes public in a traumatic way when, housesitting for two teachers at Liza's school (who, they discover, are lesbians, though the fact has never been made public) they are discovered by a punitive administrator who dismisses the two teachers and threatens Liza with expulsion. She is reinstated by the board of trustees, but emotional stress with peers and family remain to be worked out.

Ultimately, she finds she can let go of friendships that falter on this issue, and her family supports her, though her parents have to work through their own ambivalence. Annie goes to Berkeley, Liza to MIT, and after some months of silence, they resume contact with hope of reviving a relationship they still cherish, perhaps the more for the lessons it's brought with it.

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Annotated by:
Stanford, Ann Folwell

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

With some 70 characters and a wide array of events spanning 500 years and several continents, the plot of this novel is less a linear plot than an elaborate web of events. Peopled with addicts, alcoholics, corrupt judges and politicians, unscrupulous and greedy land speculators, and a host of other unsavory characters, the novel also tells the story of resistance to Euro-American oppression and a growing effort of indigenous people and their allies to retake the land and ultimately to become agents of its healing. Woven throughout the novel are folk stories of the past, pronouncements on the present and predictions of a dire future for the offspring of the European conquerors.

Spatially, Tucson, Arizona functions as a focal point, with much of the action radiating away from, or towards, the city. Arizona is about to go belly-up from the effects of a declining economy and devastating drought and growing civil unrest in Mexico. As the prophecies have foretold, the narrator reminds readers, the inexorable movement of the people is North, and while it may take 500 or 5000 years, the indigenous and their allies will reclaim the diseased and corrupted land (and presumably become instruments of its healing).

Into this milieu Silko inserts a host of characters who work as part of the resistance. Among them are twin sisters Lecha (a demerol-addicted psychic who helps police locate the bodies of murder victims and has a lucrative profession as a talk show guest) and Zeta (who has made a fortune running drugs and guns across the North and South American borders with the help of Lecha’s son and his sometime lover Paulie); twin brothers, Tacho (a chauffeur for the wealthy Menardo who also functions as a spy for the indigenous resistance movement), and El Feo (who heads that movement in the far South of Mexico). Both brothers commune with spirit macaws for advice.

There is an "army of the Homeless" who plan to retake "stolen" goods and land from the wealthy. The Barefoot Hopi organizes incarcerated prisoners for an uprising against the U.S. Government. Many of these and other characters converge at novel’s end at the International Holistic Healer’s Convention where "German root doctors" and "Celtic leech handlers" join with "new-age spiritualists" and the Green Vengeance eco-warriors.

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Praisesong for the Widow

Marshall, Paule

Last Updated: Dec-12-2006
Annotated by:
Stanford, Ann Folwell

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

A middle class African-American widow, Avey Marshall, has set off on a cruise with two of her friends from work on the "Bianca Pride," and becomes ill shortly after they have set sail. Avey disembarks in Grenada after experiencing disequilibrium, nausea, disturbing nightmares, and a feeling of being "clogged and swollen." Thus begins a journey of reclamation and healing of a past that has been largely forgotten or erased in her efforts to escape the poverty of her younger years and obtain the American dream of financial security and a white-defined respectability.

The novel is divided into four parts: Avey's growing distress on board the cruise ship, the intensification of nightmares and "visits" from her long-dead and very Afro-centric Great Aunt Cuney, and her decision to leave the cruise ship. The second section takes place in her hotel room where Avey confronts her rage and grief, not only over the death of her husband, but the utter waste in his drive for material success and the ensuing loss of their joy in each other and their heritage.

In the third section, Avey, getting lost on a walk, meets Lebert Joseph who convinces her to accompany him on the "Carriacou Excursion," an annual island festival honoring the long-time ancestors. Avey travels by small boat to Carriacou, becoming violently ill, and is cared for by a group of women on the boat, encouraging her in this "cleansing." This journey and her illness prompt Avey to think about the middle passage of slaves and the horrors they endured in countless journeys much worse than hers.

Once on the island, in the fourth section of the book, Avey is bathed and nursed back to health by Lebert Joseph's daughter, Rosalie Parvay. Finally, Avey joins the celebration (the "Big Drum"), witnessing and finally joining the important "Beg Pardon" and nation dances. This section brings the novel full circle as Avey experiences reconciliation with her past, her heritage, and herself.

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Lovesick

Mastretta, Ángeles

Last Updated: Dec-12-2006
Annotated by:
Stanford, Ann Folwell

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

The novel twines several plots together: the love story of Emilia Sauri and Daniel Cuenca; the Mexican Revolution; Emilia's medical practice; the love story of Emilia and Dr. Zavalza.

Emilia Sauri is the daughter of upper-class Mexican parents and is raised in relatively idyllic surroundings. Her father is a pharmacist and she learns his craft through a long apprenticeship with him. Emilia's long-time childhood friend, Daniel Cuenca, becomes her lover as they grow older and their love grows in passion while Daniel's involvement in popular struggle increases.

The Mexican Revolution is brewing and the Sauri's and Cuenca's lives are intertwined and involved in the struggle in various ways. When a wounded fighter is brought to the Sauri's, Emilia takes care of him, her "first patient," and thus begins her thirst for practicing medicine. She studies with Daniel's father, the indomitable Dr. Cuenca ("I leave but one bequest to my children: paralysis of the spine before the tyrant").

Drawn more and more into the struggle, Emilia joins Daniel on the front and practices medicine with the most desperate cases, along with the myriad poor people she meets along the way. Emilia also practices medicine with Dr. Zavalza, and finally marries him, although she never stops loving Daniel.

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So Far from God

Castillo, Ana

Last Updated: Dec-12-2006
Annotated by:
Stanford, Ann Folwell

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

This is the story of a Chicano family in the little town of Tome, New Mexico: Sofi, her (sometime) husband Domingo, and their four daughters--Esperanza, Fe, Caridad, and the youngest, who is epileptic, "La Loca Santa." So Far From God includes a full cast of characters including the healer, Doña Felicia, Francisco el Penitente (El Franky), a psychic surgeon, and an assortment of others.

The novel tells the story of relatively short lives and (longer) deaths of the four daughters. Esperanza, a journalist, dies as a hostage in the Middle East; Fe dies of cancer as a result of chemical poisoning from her job in the weapons industry; Caridad is miraculously restored after a mysterious mauling, and later dies--or disappears--off a cliff with the woman of her dreams; La Loca, the remaining daughter, dies of what appears to be HIV infection. Sofi, having pronounced herself mayor of Tome, in her grief over Loca's death, goes on to found the worldwide organization, M.O.M.A.S. (Mothers of Martyrs and Saints).

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The Bluest Eye

Morrison, Toni

Last Updated: Dec-12-2006
Annotated by:
Stanford, Ann Folwell

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

The Breedlove family has moved from the rural south to urban Lorain, Ohio, and the displacement, in addition to grinding work conditions and poverty, contributes to the family's dysfunction. Told from the perspectives of the adolescent sisters, Claudia and Frieda MacTeer, Morrison's narrative weaves its way through the four seasons and traces the daughter's (Pecola Breedlove) descent into madness. Through flashback and temporal shifts, Morrison provides readers with the context and history behind the Breedloves' misery and Pecola's obsessive desire to have "the bluest eyes."

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Invisible Man

Ellison, Ralph

Last Updated: Dec-12-2006
Annotated by:
Stanford, Ann Folwell

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Ellison uses the trope of invisibility in this novel that traces the Invisible Man’s journey from idealism to a grim realism about the racism that confronts him every step of his way. Every episode ends with the Invisible Man’s escape from near disaster, brought about by his naiveté and the virulent racism in which he must function. By novel’s end, the hero is living clandestinely in the basement of a large building, burning hundreds of lights at the expense of the electric company, and planning for an eventual re-emergence.

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The Fever

Shawn, Wallace

Last Updated: Dec-12-2006
Annotated by:
Stanford, Ann Folwell

Primary Category: Literature / Plays

Genre: Dramatic Monologue

Summary:

In this dramatic monologue, the speaker is traveling in a warring country, and wakes up shivering and vomiting in a "strange hotel room, in a poor country where my language isn't spoken." As to the cause of this illness, he points out that an execution is occurring on this day at this hour. He lives through the execution as if it were his own ("And so now they come--they come for the man who lies on his cot").

He sees the "breaking of the skin" and his "body shifting upwards, slightly in the air" as the electricity is activated (4). He knows that it is the Marxists who are "being tortured and killed" (16). Throughout the monologue, the speaker attempts to make sense of his privilege in the face of poverty, violence, and injustice.

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Wednesday I.D. Clinic

Hacker, Marilyn

Last Updated: Dec-12-2006
Annotated by:
Stanford, Ann Folwell

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

The speaker addresses her friend, a caregiver (it’s not clear what her or his status is, possibly a volunteer) in an infectious disease clinic, noting how the friend empathizes with and carries the words of the patients within her- or himself.

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