Showing 921 - 930 of 1140 annotations tagged with the keyword "Human Worth"

Annotated by:
Davis, Cortney

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Collection (Essays)

Summary:

A 199-page collection of twelve essays by undertaker and poet Thomas Lynch, superficially about his mortuary trade, but actually about much more--life and death; the process of mourning; how we human beings pass though our common lives with grace or desperation; how the graveside ritual serves memory, family, and society. In the preface, Lynch says that early on he came to understand that the undertaking trade he would inherit from his father had little to do with what was done to the dead, but everything to do with how the living responded to the deaths of loved ones, neighbors, and friends.

Particularly outstanding essays include "The Undertaking," in which Lynch divulges the practical and emotional secrets of his trade as he buries Milo, a man who owned a Laundromat; "Crapper," a humorous, rollicking essay that demonstrates our modern society's inability to deal either with the thought of dying or the actual dead body; "The Gulfatorium," a flight of fancy about building a graveyard in a golf course, but really about the nature of suffering and the afterlife; "Mary & Wilbur," about neighbors, about our fear of death and our impulse to memorialize; "Uncle Eddie, Inc.," about an uncle's "clean-up service" that sanitized rooms after messy suicides and about the natural order of life and death and the moral implications of our manipulation of that order through assisted suicide, abortion, and genetic manipulation. My personal favorite is the final essay, "Tract," in which Lynch says how he wants his own death and burial to be managed, how he, a witness to our final rituals, wants to be witnessed.

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Vigil

Shapiro, Alan

Last Updated: Aug-15-2000
Annotated by:
Shafer, Audrey

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

Alan Shapiro, poet and professor of English at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, chronicles the life and death of his sister, Beth, who died of breast cancer at the age of 49. Beth lived the last four weeks of her life at a hospice in Texas--this memoir traces those weeks in particular and refracts them against decades of family dynamics, turmoil and triumph. The memoir is composed of 14 tersely named chapters ("The Death," "The Joke") followed by "Afterwords": six poems about Beth.

Alan is the youngest of 3 siblings; Beth was the oldest and David, an actor is the middle child. Despite, or perhaps because of their age difference, Beth and Alan were very close. It was he whom she asked to write her eulogy and it was he who stayed the entire 4 weeks of hospice, save for a brief trip home. From Alan's love and devotion grows an admiration for Beth's integrity in life and death.

Beth married an African-American man, fought for liberal causes, and suffered complete estrangement from her parents due to her choices. Her husband, Russ, must deal not only with the loss of his wife and their daughter's loss of her mother, but also with the prejudice of the Shapiro parents and the medical establishment. At one point Shapiro describes how, whenever he accompanied his sister and her husband to the doctor's office, Alan, not Russ, was treated as the spouse and decision-maker.

Shapiro vividly depicts the poignancy of parent-child relationships. Gabbi, the seven-year-old daughter who loves horses, gallops through the house with grace and abandon not possible at the hospice. Alan's anger at his father's actions and his forgiveness of his mother's accomplice role are also strongly demonstrated. A great strength of this book is the choice of detail: the mother completes a book of crossword puzzles during the vigil; the brother becomes infatuated with a particular joke he wants to memorize; nurses leave a solitary rose on the bed of the newly dead at the hospice.

Shapiro is keenly interested in being with his sister right at the moment of her death. He describes the end: "one long, deep, and profoundly eerie moan . . . That moan, I'm certain, marked the end of Beth, the end of life, though the body went on breathing for another minute or so, each breath a little fainter, weaker, the body's electricity guttering down, dissolving, till there was no breath at all." (pp. 111-2)

He also analyzes whether this was "a good death." There had been many gifts: Beth's recognition of her importance, her reconciliation with her father, and her acceptance of her mother's devotion. However, Shapiro also keeps the reader cognizant of Beth's suffering and the now motherless child, the spouseless husband and the myriad other ways that Beth's death marked a void.

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Summary:

American Beauty, a story about Lester Burnham (Kevin Spacey), his family, and his neighbors, is both comic and tragic. In addition to a loveless marriage, an unhappy teen-age daughter, and an unimaginative, routine job, Lester is worried about aging. Nothing has turned out as expected. From the outside, all seems ideal: the white-framed house, the well-tended red roses, and the white picket fence. As illustrated by meal time settings, a highly-charged cold war atmosphere prevails inside the house. Lester and his wife Carolyn (Annette Bening), a realtor, cannot stand each other and their daughter, Jane (Thora Birch), has no desire to be with either of them.

From the onset, Lester’s narrating voice tells us that he will be dead in a year. He has no illusions about the repressive nature of his life and decides, unilaterally, that abrupt changes are in order. His scripted family role is cast aside as he quits his job, lusts after his daughter’s sexy friend, Angela (Mena Suvari), and smokes an illegal substance with Ricky (Wes Bentley), a teen-ager who has moved in next door.

Uncharacteristic of his customary, go-along behavior, the new, rebellious Lester throws a plate of asparagus against the wall during dinner, drinks beer while lounging on the expensive off-limits couch, works as a cook and waiter at a local fast food restaurant, and begins a body building program so as to impress and seduce Angela. Meanwhile, Carolyn has an affair with a competing realtor and Jane falls in love with Ricky.

Two gay men, who are thoughtful and kind, live on one side of the Burnhams; on the other side, Ricky lives with another version of disturbed parents: an abused and deeply depressed mother and a retired, Marine father (Chris Cooper) who bullies his son, is expressively homophobic, and collects guns and Nazi era memorabilia.

The lives of these characters, many of them familiar to viewers, gain in intensity as various threads cross to produce an unresolvable knot.

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Annotated by:
Shafer, Audrey

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Children's Literature

Summary:

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is the fourth book in a planned series of seven (see annotation of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone for an introductory summary). Unlike previous books, this one opens with the murder of a Muggle, Frank Bryce, the elderly gardener for the Riddle estate--a home where Tom Riddle Sr. and his elderly parents had been found dead many years before. Voldemort, although still weak and requiring much assistance from his simpering servant Wormtail and his snake Nagini, is positioning himself for a return to full power.

Harry's distinctive scar is burning with pain as he awakes from a dream of the previous scene. This scar had hurt once before, in book one, when Voldemort was on Hogwarts property. Harry alerts his godfather via owl post and joins the Dursleys for breakfast. Breakfast is meager because Dudley, always obese and obnoxious, has now grown to outrageous proportions and is on the diet ordered by his school nurse. His mother, to make him feel better, puts everyone on the same diet. Harry is once again saved from the Dursleys by the Weasley family, although Dudley and his appetite are the objects of a prank by the Weasley twins.

Arthur Weasley (the father) who works for the Ministry of Magic in the Misuse of Muggle Artifacts Office has secured top notch tickets for all to attend the World Quidditch Cup. This fantastic event is marred by the appearance of signs of support for Voldemort by his followers, the Death Eaters, and Arthur hurries home with his charges in tow via Portkey transit.

Harry, now fourteen, enters Hogwarts for his fourth year. This year is different for all of the students due to the resurrection of the Triwizard Tournament, a dangerous international competition for a selected champion from each of three schools, Durmstrang, Beauxbatons, and Hogwarts. Although underage, Harry is selected by the Goblet as an extra competitor from Hogwarts. Everyone is concerned for the competitors' safety (the famous Viktor Krum, the enticing Fleur Delacour, and the decent Cedric Diggory). In particular, Harry's life is in danger from suspected foul play.

Adolescent love, the nastiness of poison-pen reporter Rita Skeeter, the ever-vigilant nature of Mad-Eye Moody (an Auror who caught Death Eaters in the past and who now teaches Defense Against the Dark Arts), spells that cause loss of control, excruciating pain or death, enslavement of house-elves, money, and variable degrees of professionalism by members of the Ministry of Magic, such as Cornelius Fudge, Bartemius Crouch, officious Percy Weasley, and Ludo Bagman are some of the themes and subplots in the novel. The traumatic end to the competition and follow-up lead Harry to witness and participate in some horrific events. Dumbledore, however, refuses to allow Harry to bottle-up the experience--Dumbledore understands that talk, openness, support, and rest are the first steps towards healing.

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Annotated by:
Shafer, Audrey

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is the third of a planned series of seven books (see annotation of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone for an introductory summary). Harry, forced to suffer another summer with the Dursleys, has just turned thirteen. When Uncle Vernon's sister arrives and proceeds to abuse Harry, he rebels, runs away with his heavy school trunk and is picked up by the Knight Bus, a wizard transportation vehicle. Meanwhile, the nine-member Weasley family, usually short of money, have won a wizard lottery and are using the money to visit the eldest son, Bill, in Egypt.

Sirius Black, whose motorcycle was featured in the first chapter of the first book, has escaped Azkaban and the prison guards known as Dementors. Sirius was imprisoned just after the death of Harry's parents when he was caught at the scene of another horrendous crime. Special precautions for Harry's safety are arranged by Dumbledore and the Ministry of Magic, led by Cornelius Fudge. When Harry meets a Dementor on the train to Hogwarts, he blacks out as he feels a rush of coldness, a complete lack of happiness or future, and relives his worst memories. Remus Lupin, the mysterious, gentle and periodically ill Defense of the Dark Arts Professor, provides the antidote: chocolate.

Thus begins Harry's third year at Hogwarts. Hermione signs up for an especially busy, seemingly impossible, schedule of classes. Ron's old pet rat, Scabbers, takes a turn for the worse, despite Ron's attention and care. The invisibility cloak again proves useful, as does a magical map. Hagrid, cleared of the cloud that had been hanging over him since his school days, is promoted to teacher: Care of Magical Creatures. However, an injury to Draco Malfoy by Buckbeak the hippogriff (a flying bird-horse) during the first class leads to another investigation.

Bizarre characters, such as the doom-predicting Divination teacher, Sibyll Trelawney, exciting Quidditch matches with a new broomstick for Harry, more run-ins with Snape, and a peek at Hogsmeade, an all magic village, round out the story. Ron, Hermione, and Harry's dangerous adventure leads to the exposure of Sirius Black, the truth of his connection to Harry's parents, and new discoveries for Harry about his father. Our heroes also discover who is the servant to Voldemort, the Dark Lord.

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Annotated by:
Bertman, Sandra

Primary Category: Visual Arts / Painting/Drawing

Genre: Oil on canvas

Summary:

A naked young Tahitian woman standing in a lagoon tries to cover her genitals with a kerchief as she becomes uncomfortably aware of the presence of an ominous-looking clothed spirit figure kneeling behind her. The lush exotic landscape punctuated with phosphorescent foliage, fauna, looming tree, serpentine forms, and the outline of a barely discernible thin hand representing the artist adds to an atmosphere of mystery and malevolence. Below the artist's signature and date in black on the canvas is inscribed in orange the title, "Parau na te Varua ino."

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In the Surgical Theatre

Levin, Dana

Last Updated: Jul-06-2000
Annotated by:
Davis, Cortney

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Collection (Poems)

Summary:

In this complex poetry collection (divided into three sections, "Body," "Home," and "World"), the author moves from the specifics of the individual diseased or dying body to the more universal realm of suffering and politics. Not so much a poet of narratives as a conjurer of images, Levin writes from changing points of view: first as a man, then as a woman; as a surgeon, then a patient.

Poet Louise Gl├╝ck's introduction states that the book's power "derives from ambiguity: the raised scalpel-healing that looks like assault," and Levin's raw imagery is indeed both challenging and celebratory. In the opening poem, "Lenin's Bath," we watch with Dr. Sergei Debov as Lenin's corpse is tenderly submerged in a vat of embalming fluid. Debov imagines the germs that crawl along the cadaver "seeking a way in."

In the next poem, "Eyeless Baby," the reader becomes a caregiver searching a deformed infant's face that is nothing but a single nostril and a cleft palate. In "Bathhouse, 1980," we see (as the blind baby cannot) through a young homosexual man's eyes both the human longing for passion and the viral "scourge" that, again, seeks entrance. The angels that gather in the bathhouse's corner become nurses ("The Nurse") who swarm like moths over a hospitalized patient's body.

This interweaving of place and point of view continues throughout, creating a magical, disturbing world in which a reader can be both body ("The Baby on the Table") and healer ("In the Surgical Theatre"). Other powerful poems include "Personal History," "The Beautiful Names" (in which a young boy learns to name the sexual organs and so discovers their beauty), and "Witness."

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Summary:

Death’s power to erode and silence human speech has catalyzed a rich and varied flood of writing, some of which is collected in this book. Each of its four sections is devoted to one of the ways in which we speak and write in the context of death: eulogies, letters, elegies, and epitaphs. Culled from a chronological range stretching roughly from Roman antiquity to the present, these texts represent the famous, the anonymous, and all manner of people in between: as subjects of praise, mourning, and remembrance; as writers of speeches, letters, and poems about the dead; and as recipients of condolence letters.

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Barred Owl

Offutt, Chris

Last Updated: Jun-01-2000
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

In Greeley, Colorado, where he paints dormitory rooms for a living, the narrator encounters Tarvis, a refugee (like himself) from the hills of Kentucky. Tarvis lives in a shack outside of town, "a little version of eastern Kentucky, complete with woodpiles, cardboard windows, and a lousy road." (p. 118)

The narrator spends most of his free time drinking to get drunk at the Pig's Eye, but when Tarvis asks him to come out and skin a barred owl he found dead on the road, the painter agrees. He is a hunter with lots of experience skinning animals, while Tarvis shamefully admits that he doesn't hunt. He has never been able to shoot an animal. Tarvis collects bird wings and animal bones, and he is always on the lookout for arrowheads.

Months later, the narrator learns that Tarvis has committed suicide. He had found a chert arrowhead, fitted it to an arrow, rigged up a bow to an iron plate and screwed it to the floor, then sat in front of the bow and released the arrow. Tarvis finally made it home to Kentucky when his body was sent there for burial.

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Annotated by:
Holmes, Martha Stoddard

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

When Ruth's unfaithful and unappreciative husband Bobbo calls her a she-devil, she decides to appropriate that identity with a vengeance and take a different spot in the power relations of the world. She wants revenge, power, money, and "to be loved and not love in return"(49). Specifically, Ruth wants to bring about the downfall of her husband's lover, Mary Fisher, a pretty, blonde romance novelist who lives in a tower by the sea and lacks for neither love nor money nor power.

Ruth commences her elaborate revenge by burning down her own home and dumping her surly children with Mary and Bobbo. She continues on a literally shape-shifting quest in which she changes identities; gains skill, power, and money; and explores and critiques key sites of power and powerlessness in contemporary society, including the church, the law, the geriatric institution, the family home, and (above all) the bedroom.

By the end of the novel, Ruth achieves all four of her goals in abundance. Her success, however, raises complex ethical questions, not only because she uses the same strategies of manipulation and cruelty of which she was a victim, but also because of the painful physical reconstruction of her body that is the tool of her victory.

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