Showing 51 - 60 of 178 annotations tagged with the keyword "Racism"

The Good Priest's Son

Price, Reynolds

Last Updated: Mar-23-2009
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Mabry Kincaid, a New York art conservator is flying home on September 11, 2001, when news comes to him on the plane of the attacks on the World Trade Center.  Unable to return to his apartment in the city, he decides to visit his aging father, an Episcopal priest, in his boyhood home in North Carolina. There he meets Audrey, an African-American seminary student in her forties, who has moved in to care for his disabled father.  In the ensuing weeks Mabry is led to reflect deeply not only on the fate of the country and of his career, but on how his father's apparently final illness compels him to come to new terms with their constrained relationship. The death of the brother Mabry always believed to be the favorite has left a painful chasm between father and son, made more so by his father's own admission of favoritism.

At the same time Mabry is coming to terms with his own diagnosis of multiple sclerosis and with the grief he continues to process since his wife's death from cancer.  Audrey and her son bring a new dimension to the life of the household and a widened sense of family to the two men as they struggle to lay the past to rest and to accept the radical uncertainties of the personal and national future. One interesting subplot involves Mabry's discovery of what is reputed to be a minor, uncatalogued Van Gogh painting, covered by the work of another artist, that he has brought home for his employer, now dead, and his musings about what to do with this undocumented treasure.  The question remains open for symbolic reflection as he leaves it behind in North Carolina and returns to New York for a very different kind of life than the one he left. 

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Annotated by:
Mathiasen, Helle

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: History

Summary:

Testifying to its author's "fascination with death" (324), this scholarly and abundantly illustrated work focuses on the history of the American idea of the Good Death as this concept took shape during the Civil War. Frederic Law Olmstead used the phrase "republic of suffering" to describe the many wounded and dying soldiers being treated at Union hospital ships on the Virginia Peninsula. Faust argues that the task of dealing with more than half a million dead during the War motivated Americans in the North and South to discover cultural and physical measures of interpreting and coping with the suffering and loss that occurred in thousands of families.

The scale of this War was unprecedented due to rifles and railroads; however, Gilpin Faust reminds us that twice as many soldiers died of disease as died of wounds suffered in the conflict. The illnesses were epidemics of measles, mumps and smallpox, then diarrhea and dysentery, typhoid and malaria. Medical care was inadequate; consequently, soldiers and their families turned to spiritual consolation. The Good Death was identified as sacrificing your life for the cause; many  believed in the Christian idea of resurrection and the afterlife. Killing became work,  as African American soldiers fought for "God, race and country" (53), where  Southerners fought to preserve the status quo, including slavery.

Because of the War, public cemeteries and ceremonies, and government's identifying and counting the dead are now taken for granted. Because of the Civil War, bodies of the dead military are today brought back from foreign lands and honored with decent burial: "We still seek to use our deaths to create meaning where we are not sure any exists" (271).

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Half-Nelson

Fleck, Ryan; Gosling, Ryan; Epps, Shareeka

Last Updated: Jan-16-2009
Annotated by:
Jones, Therese

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film

Summary:

Screenwriter and director Ryan Fleck expanded his award-winning short film--Gowanus, Brooklyn-- into the 2007 feature-length drama, Half-Nelson.  The central character of the film is Dan Dunne (Ryan Gosling) an eighth-grade history teacher struggling to make the subject relevant to his students at a troubled school in the heart of poverty-stricken, crime-ridden Brooklyn.  His creativity in the classroom and his commitment to the students, predominately African-American and Latino teens, is real, without pretense or condescension.  Rather than relying on canned curricula and traditional methodologies such as recounting battles and memorizing dates, he tries to inspire his students with the ideology of Karl Marx, the rhetoric of Martin Luther King, Jr., and the film footage of Mario Savio, student leader of the Free Speech Movement in the 1960s.

However, Dan's idealism and energy begin to wane, and he easily justifies anesthetizing himself in order to escape his growing recognition that he will likely make little or no difference in the world.  As his drug use intensifies, Dan's connections with friends, family, colleagues, and eventually, students completely unravel.  But his downward spiral into addiction is intertwined with and counterpointed by a complex and subtle relationship that develops between him and thirteen-year old, Drey (Shareeka Epps) when she discovers her teacher, Mr. Dunne, slumped nearly unconscious in the bathroom stall of the school gym, a crack pipe still in his hand.  

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Unaccustomed Earth

Lahiri, Jhumpa

Last Updated: Jan-06-2009
Annotated by:
Nixon, Lois LaCivita

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Collection (Short Stories)

Summary:

The unusual title is borrowed from Nathaniel Hawthorne's story, "The Custom House," to suggest a shift in fortune when immigrants "strike their roots into unaccustomed earth."  Set almost entirely in the United States (the unaccustomed earth), eight separate stories are connected most obviously by cultural dissonances affecting characters who are Indian or have Indian parents.  Three of the stories, however, are linked by a strong narrative connection that is unexpected, profound, and unforgettable.

For Indian readers, the narratives describe complexities about migration patterns, cultural issues, alienation, and generational differences. The stories deal with well-educated children of immigrants who become offspring their parents barely recognize.  For other readers, the stories reveal situations about families and customs that are strangely familiar, especially those stories dealing with relationships between parents and children.
 
The forces of globalization have created and accelerated shifts that can seem staggering to all parents intent on preserving cultural patterns and traditions. Whether Indian or not, most parents experience a sense of alienation while watching their children flourish in a world that increasingly appears unfamiliar and foreign.

Not surprisingly, the stories concern strains and challenges affecting mixed relationships and/or mixed marriages and stresses on disapproving and disappointed parents, while others focus on children succumbing to drugs and alcohol(for the latter, see annotation of "Only Goodness").  All deal with some kind of emotional loss, but provide connections to feelings experienced by children and their parents in life's quiet and more kinetic negotiations.
 
The first story is about Ruma, a well-educated woman who lives in Seattle with her work-alcoholic American husband, and child, Akash.  Generational and cultural contrasts are revealed in overt and more subtle ways when her recently widowed father arrives for a short visit. Even though Ruma's complete assimilation into her non-Indian home as well as her on-going worries about her father's loneliness are major considerations, another story thread is spun, one that quietly reveals the father's thoughts about himself and a new relationship made recently during a vacation in Europe. Ruma's assumptions about her father, his loneliness, his possible dependency on her, and the Seattle vacation as a possible signal for relocating to her household turn out to be entirely wrong. 
 
The last three stories follow a boy, Kaushik, and girl, Hema, into adulthood.  In the first story, "Once in a Lifetime," Hema recalls her first memory of Kaushik when he was 9 and she was 6. The occasion was a farewell party for Kaushik's parents who were returning from the United States to live in Calcutta. The mothers, who grew up in Calcutta, but met in Cambridge, Massachusetts had become very close and were saddened by this separation.

Seven years pass before Kaushik‘s parents return to the Boston area and stay with Hema's family. Hema found the now 16-year old young man appealing, but brooding and totally uninterested in her. Even though Hema expected Kaushik to be Indian-like in behavior, he was more Americanized than she was. That the family had flown first-class shocked Hema's conservative family as did their new smoking and moderate drinking habits.

After a long search, and to the relief of Hema's parents, Kaushik's family found a  modern house on the North Shore.  Before they moved to their new home, Kaushik surprised Hema with confidential information-- his family had left India to seek treatment in Boston for his mother's breast cancer.  All medical efforts had been unsuccessful and his mother had only a short time to live.  Hema promised to keep this disclosure secret and grieved for the woman she had come to admire and love.
 
The second story in the link, "Year's End," is narrated by Kaushik.  With the opening line, "I did not attend my father's wedding," readers know that Kaushik‘s mother has died.  His father, in Calcutta for a visit, had married Chitra, a woman with two young daughters, and all would be returning to the North Shore house to live. Most of the chapter recounts the ordeal of the mother‘s dying, Kaushik‘s tremendous sense of loss, and the loneliness experienced by him at Swarthmore College.  No mention is made of Hema by the desolate narrator except to remember he had hated every day spent under her parents' roof, but later had come to think of that time with nostalgia.  

"Going Ashore" brings Hema and Kaushik together in Rome where she has a study grant and a visiting lectureship and he is on vacation from his work as an award-winning photo journalist.  Hema's parents have arranged for her to marry Navin in Calcutta.  Navin has accepted a teaching position at MIT. Until her unexpected reunion with Kaushik and the intense love affair that follows, neither had experienced any real connection with another person.  The story about them in Rome seems to represent an independence from the cultural forces that have shaped their lives, but this independence is short lived.  Ultimately, she is unable to set aside the expectations imposed by her parents.  The consequences of their final separation are more than any reader might imagine.

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The Human Stain

Roth, Philip

Last Updated: Dec-04-2008
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

The Human Stain is the third of Philip Roth's trilogy of novels that explore the relationship between public and private life in America during the second half of the 20th century. As in American Pastoral (1997) and I Married a Communist (1998), Nathan Zuckerman, Roth's favorite alter ego, serves as the narrator. After a prostate operation rendered him impotent, Zuckerman has retired from the world to become writer in residence at idyllic Athena College.

There he meets Coleman Silk, a former dean and classics professor who was forced to resign because of a supposed racial slur, in which he asked whether two students who had registered for his course but never attended a lecture were "spooks." They were African-Americans. Hence, political correctness dictated that Silk's academic career was history.

Zuckerman enters the scene a couple of years later, when the septuagenarian Silk is having an affair with an illiterate college janitor. This liaison has revitalized the old professor, whose wife died during the period of disgrace after his "racism" was exposed. However, Silk's enemies at the college, led by a bitterly proper young deconstructionist, have gone on the warpath again, this time condemning him for exploiting the young janitor.

The real story, though, lies deep in Coleman Silk's past. We eventually learn that Silk is a light skinned African-American who gradually drifted across the American racial divide and for 50 years has successfully passed as a white Jew. The irony in this situation is complex. A black man thought by the world to be Jewish is publicly disgraced for uttering the word "spook" in its correct denotation. (This is reminiscent of a case a few years ago in which a public official in the United States was chastised for using the word "niggardly" with reference to an inadequate budget allocation.)

The situation is doubly ironic because Silk has chosen to live his life as a white man, thereby in a sense establishing his own racism. Silk's original goal had been to live as an individual, and not as a representative of his race, but in choosing to deny his roots, perhaps Coleman Silk's guilt is deeper and more complex than his pursuers at Athena College realize.

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Annotated by:
Henderson, Schuyler

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film

Summary:

James Coburn turns in a startling comic performance as a psychiatrist with a Cheshire Cat grin, called upon to provide a listening ear to the President. Somewhat flattered to get the job, he accepts, and soon becomes caught up in intrigues as all the other major players in the Cold War want to capture the man who knows the President's secrets.

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Interlude

Koch, John

Last Updated: Feb-28-2008

Primary Category: Visual Arts / Painting/Drawing

Genre: Oil on canvas

Summary:

Detail by detail, we are drawn into John Koch's painting, done with such precision that we are seduced into believing that he has painted precisely what was before him. His painted world is, however, an artful balancing act of realism and artifice. His interiors are like theatrical backdrops, where his models, like actors, play their roles. The drama of Interlude is actually an entr'acte--a familiar subject in Koch's work--when artist and model are taking a break. In the background, seated on a sofa, looking off to the viewer's right--the painting's "stage left"--is the artist himself. Drink in hand, he gazes intently at a canvas in process.

In the middle-ground, dressed in a brilliant red robe, is his wife, a white-haired older woman, offering the seated young woman-clearly a model because she is not dressed-a cup of tea. The model, seen from the back, sits at the very edge of a day bed. Her dark brown skin is set off against the white sheet beneath her. Especially marked, is the contrast between her outstretched arm and the older woman's red robe. The essential detail-visually as well as symbolically-is the tea cup that is about to pass between them.

In this intimate world of the artist's studio--ten stories above the streets of New York--two women are engaged in an historic reversal: a young black model is being served by an older white woman. The significance of this moment is reinforced by a detail in the setting. What initially appears to be a bank of windows behind the couch is in fact a black-framed mirror. Reflected in this mirror are the canvas in process, the goose-necked lamp that his illuminating his palette, and a bulbous lamp on an unseen table.

Interlude is signed and dated on the painting's lower right: "Koch 1963." It was painted in the same year that Martin Luther King, Jr. presented his "I Have A Dream" speech that culminated the Civil Rghts "March on Washington."

Adapted from: Susan Dodge-Peters Daiss, "John Koch, Interlude (1963). In: Marjorie Searle, ed. Seeing America: Painting and Sculpture from the Collection of the Memorial Art Gallery of the University of Rochester (Rochester, NY: Memorial Art Gallery) 2006, pp. 275-277.

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Moby-Dick

Melville, Herman

Last Updated: Dec-11-2007
Annotated by:
Henderson, Schuyler

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

After deciding that it's time for him to get back to sea, Ishmael arrives in New Bedford, Massachussets, in search of adventure. At the Spouter Inn, he befriends his bed-mate, the harpooner Queequeg, and they travel to Nantucket. Here, they sign up for the Pequod, and on Christmas Day, set off on a three year voyage hunting whales for their oil. After several days at sea, the captain emerges from his cabin to enlist his crew into joining him in his pursuit of Moby Dick, the white whale that "dismasted" him.

Simmering with rage, Captain Ahab leads his crew across the oceans, with the help of his stoical and ethical quaker First Mate, Starbuck, and the cheerful Second Mate Stubb. The crew encounter other ships at sea, hunt sperm and right whales, and process the blubber for oil as they get closer and closer to the final confrontation between two of the great forces in American literature: the human will of Captain Ahab and the natural power of an untamed whale.

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Summary:

In 1999, eighteen years after Project HOPE began publishing the journal "Health Affairs," the founding editor, John Iglehart, began a new column: Narrative Matters. This book contains 46 of the 80 essays published to date, and an inspiring foreword by Abraham Verghese. The essays are contained in eight chapters-- "Writing to Change Things: Essays on the Policy Narrative," "Dollars and Sense: Hard Financial Realities," "Bearing Witness: Patient's Stories," "The Maddening System: Frustrations and Solutions," "Trouble in the Ranks: Professional Problems," "Drug Resistance: Battling Undue Influences," "Disparity Dilemmas: Stories on Race and Ethnicity," and "Values and Choice: Stories of Practical Ethics." Familiar voices include those of Fitzhugh Mullan (one of the editors), Abigail Zuger, Howard Brody, Richard Lamm, John Lantos, Danielle Ofri, and Carol Levine. The essays in the first section strike an important cautionary tone, reminding readers that the plural of anecdote too often is taken for policy and that the repetition of anecdote should not be seen as evidence.

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Annie's War

Sullivan, Jacqueline

Last Updated: Oct-08-2007
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel for Young Adults

Summary:

Annie, eleven, has been sent to spend the summer with her grandmother after she and her mother get the news that her father is missing in action at the end of World War II. Annie herself has just recovered from a month-long stay in the hospital, following surgery for a burst appendix. While there, she developed a habit of entering dream encounters with President Truman, who appears in dreams and fantasies to reassure her about her father, and about the other uncertainties she faces.

While at her grandmother's home in Walla Walla, Washington, a small farm town, a young African-American woman, a war widow, comes looking for work and is taken into the grandmother's house as an accountant. She and Annie become fast friends, much to the disapproval of her uncle, her father's younger brother, who has returned from the war wounded and bitter, having alone survived a battle in which all the other members of his platoon died. He and a few other troublemakers make escalating attempts to get the African-American woman to leave, including threats and a burning cross in the yard. But the grandmother, Annie, and Miss Gloria, who has seen worse racism in Georgia, hold out.

Eventually the brother comes to his senses and reports his fellow culprits to the police. Annie's father is found in a hospital in France, recovering from serious wounds as well as temporary amnesia. He and her mother arrive in Walla Walla after Annie has made a prize-winning speech in her new school about the losses and costs of war to individuals who return, going beyond the count of those dead. The father is nearly blind, but otherwise fairly well recovered, and he is accompanied by a young African-American aide who brings a ray of hope for companionship to Miss Gloria.

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