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The American Dream: A Reflection on “The Death of a Salesman”

December 31, 2009 Leave a comment

“We hold these truths, to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness” (Declaration of Independence). The American dream spawned from this strong statement found within the Declaration of Independence written in 1776. A simple summation of the premise behind the dream is the belief that, in America, no matter the situation in which a man or woman currently finds him or herself, there is always the opportunity for betterment if one is willing to work hard enough for it. This dream has spurned many to leave comfortable situations or to work themselves to death in order to ensure that they do everything in their power to better their lives and the lives of their loved ones. America has been touted “The Land of Opportunity” by the rest of the world for several generations. What happens, however, when the dream becomes all consuming? When the pursuit of selfish ambition overshadows the entirety of one’s life? To what end will one pursuing this dream go to ensure that he or she comes out on top?

One of the greatest plagues on American society today is the narcissistic attitude that permeates much of the American population. Society is primarily centered on the idea that every man, woman, boy, and girl has to look out for him or herself in order to get along in the current social and economic system that governs the global population. This belief has led many to show utter disregard to those whom they come into contact with on a daily basis. The population at large has become so completely self-centered that America is no longer the golden land of opportunity that it once was. Instead, it is the land of dog-eat-dog politics, economic strategy, and social order. This disease undermines the basic Biblical principles that this country was founded upon and common human decency which seems to be a commodity that is in extremely short supply in society today. Is this anything new, however, or has this desire and disregard been present within the historical societies of the world since the beginning of civilization?

There are many examples of societies full of self-centered citizens who show a general lack of compassion and love for those around them. There are many stories that highlight how people within these societies treat one another. One of the most well-known, however, is the story of the Good Samaritan found in Luke 10: 30-35 within the pages of the Bible. The general idea of the story is that there was a Jewish man who was badly beaten by robbers and left for dead on the side of the road. The man is then discovered and passed by a priest and a Levite, whom was a member of the Jewish tribe responsible for many of the religious duties within the Jewish culture. Basically, these people were the ones who were supposed to care for people and express God’s love; however, they passed him on the other side of the street pretending like he wasn’t even there. A Samaritan then came upon the beaten man. In the culture of the day, Jewish people did not consort with Samaritans as they were seen as half-breed people and tainted. This Samaritan, however, had compassion on the man whom he had found in the gutter. He then picked him up, treated his wounds, and paid for the man’s stay in an inn so that he could recover. He extended a helping hand regardless of cultural heritage and the predetermined prejudices of the participants. This idea of helping for the sake of helping, eschewing social or economic stigma, is so foreign to many in today’s society where advancement of self is the primary goal of life.

The narcissistic concept dominating society today is also highlighted within Arthur Miller’s classic stage production, The Death of a Salesman. The story centers around the final days of a lifetime salesman named Willy Loman and his descent into extreme depression. This journey is highlighted by several episodes of psychosis where Willy experiences lifelike hallucinations of moments and people from within his past. He actually interacts with these hallucinations throughout the course of the production even asking the ethereal representation of his older brother for life advice as the depression begins to take over. Willy, however, had not always been the depressed shell of a man that the audience experiences over the course of his last few days on Earth.

Willy’s life had been lived in the pursuit of something greater. He had spent his entire existence fighting in the trenches in order to better himself and his family, and he had done fairly well in that regard. In his prime, Willy was quite the salesman. He had opened new avenues and territories for his employer to sell merchandise which ended with the betterment of the entire company. Willy had done very well for his family. They hadn’t been extremely wealthy, but neither had they been poverty stricken. The bills had always been paid and there had always been food on the table. He lived a hard life spending many days and nights away from his family on the road, plugging away, always looking for the latest and greatest sale in order to support his family and further the reputation of his company. He had established a fairly nice niche for himself as his company’s “New England man” (2464). However, there was no way that Willy could sustain this pace forever.

The human body was created with the ability to sustain high levels of punishment, whether physical or emotional. However, every physical body and mental balance has a breaking point. Willy had simply taken as much as his body could handle, and his delicate psychological disposition was a direct result of the life of moderate success that he had experienced, giving way to a life of utter failure.

“He drives seven hundred miles, and when he gets there no one knows him any more. No one welcomes him. And what goes through a man’s mind, driving seven hundred miles home without having earned a cent? Why shouldn’t he talk to himself? Why? When he has to go to Charley and borrow fifty dollars a week and pretend to me that it’s his pay?” (2485).

In Willy’s mind, his life was over. He couldn’t sell. He could not provide for his wife. He couldn’t even make a pay check anymore because the ungrateful firm that he worked for had taken away his salary. “A small man can be just as exhausted as a great man. He works for a company thirty-six years this March, opens up unheard-of territories to their trademark, and now in his old age they take his salary away” (2485). Willy was done and he knew it. However, no man as optimistic as Willy Loman would give up without a fight. He had hope. At the Christmas party in the prior year, Howard, Willy’s employer, had told Willy that he might be able to find him a place in the New York office so that he could get off the road and continue to provide for his family. Willy took this offer to heart; however, the character that Howard portrays in the remainder of the story suggests that he had just said this to Willy flippantly or in jest. Unfortunately, Willy was not in on the farce.

Willy walked into Howard’s office to ask the biggest favor he had ever asked of anyone. He knew that he had to get off the road, but he was a man of great pride. He did not want to ask for a hand out, but, by God, Willy felt like this company owed him something. After all, he was their New England man for thirty-six years. Thirty-six years! After that long, one would think that the company would be loyal to their man, but, at this point, the audience is presented with a first-hand example of the narcissism that is ruining our society and destroying the people within.

Willy, full of steam and gusto, laid it on the line for Howard, but his employer was so absorbed in himself and his silly new voice recorder that he hardly paid attention to the man baring his soul before him. Howard paid him little to no heed and when he finally did understand what was going on, he had the nerve to dismiss Willy from his position.

How can a man, who dedicates his entire life to a company, be thrown under the bus, dismissed like a piece of unusable trash that had served its purpose, but is no longer of any worth? Since he no longer profited the company, it was acceptable to first take his salary, then his pride, and finally to destroy his livelihood. This is the problem that society perpetuates today. Gone are the days of loyalty and respect. Greed, bitterness, self-absorption, and hate have moved in to occupy their spot within American idealism. Willy sums up the problem of lack of regard for people beautifully when he states, “You can’t eat the orange and throw away the peel−a man is not a piece of fruit!” (2496).

Willy knew that he was done, but he knew that if his sons could just get themselves on the right path with the right backing, that they could really make something of themselves. They could attain the dream that Willy toiled for thirty-six years to see to fruition but of which he had fallen short. Finally, he had it straight in his head. He knew that his boys could make the dream come true if they only had the money to get it started. Fortunately, Willy had a $20,000 life insurance policy. “Funny, y’know? After all the highways, and the trains, and the appointments, and the years, you end up worth more dead than alive” (2505). He knew that his death would be the ticket to his boys’ success. With great satisfaction, Willy, pushed up against a wall with nowhere to turn, ended his own life in a self-inflicted intentional car accident.

The question that bears asking is, “What truly pushed Willy to his life ending decision?” Was he left with nowhere else to run? Did he have a way out? Was it love for his boys and his desire to see them succeed? Or was he a victim of the bigger picture? Does the idea of the American dream put too much pressure on Americans to succeed?

America is by far the most overworked nation on the planet. The desire for success is so great, that many fall to the wayside as they cannot move fast enough to keep up with the pace of society or push back hard enough to deal with the overwhelming pressure that the American dream bestows on all who fall under the banner of the Stars and Stripes. The simple truth is that the American dream is not going to change anytime soon, but Americans need to reevaluate the values and methods that are used to attain a level of reasonable success. The time for a return to the values of loyalty, honor, and respect that originally defined America is at hand. Every person has value, and every person deserves to have common courtesy extended to them regardless of their economic or social status. American society will continue to morally and socially degrade until a mass of people stand up and declare that we can no longer eat the orange and throw away the peel. We have to realize that people are not worthless commodities to be thrown to the side and discarded after their assumed purpose has been fulfilled. Narcissism must die and community must grow. When will we realize that a man is so much more than a piece of fruit?

Works Cited

Miller, Arthur. “The Death of a Salesman.” The Norton Anthology: American Literature. Shorter 7th Edition. Ed. Nina Baym. New York: Norton Company, 2008. 2462-2526.

Tips for Writing: “They Say” vs. “I say”

December 28, 2009 Leave a comment

When presenting a well balanced argument in writing, it is extremely important for the author to express as rounded a presentation as possible regarding the particular subject matter that the paper is addressing. This is accomplished in several ways, but, regardless of the subject matter or the presentation method, it is vital for the author to present all possible angles within the document in order to strengthen his or her argument.

In the text, The Moves That Matter In Academic Writing: They say, I say, two elements are initially presented that are essential to penning a well received argument. These elements are titled “I say” and “they say”. A simple summation of both topics would lead the reader to analyze the actual chapter titles. “I say” is simply what the author is attempting to support within the piece that he or she is writing, while “they say” is what others are saying regarding the subject. On the surface, these elements appear to be extremely simplistic and, superficially, they are, but the deeper one probes into the nuances that define how each of these concepts can be presented, the more overwhelming each principle can become. The question then becomes “what are these specific nuances?” and “how do they compare within each of the defined elements that are essential to effective communication?”

The first similarity is found within the actual written presentation tools that are used to relay the information that is pertinent to the reader. For example, summary is used in both the presentation of “I say” and “they say”; however, it is more prevalent within the element of “they say”. The reason that it is found more often within this element is because it is more important for the author to include fine detail when presenting his or her side of the argument.

While it is extremely important to include what others are saying about the topic of discussion, the point of an essay is for the author to add his or her thoughts on the particular subject matter. As one looks closer into each of the elements, it becomes clear that the lines defining “I say” and “they say” are not as black and white as one would initially believe.

The author can use many different methods to define his or her opinion on the subject matter within the paper, but it is important to establish what “they say” in order for the author to have a starting point for contributing his or her opinion.  The most common techniques used to accomplish this after what “they say” has been established are agreeing, disagreeing, or utilizing elements of both in order for the author to present his or her stance on the particular issue being discussed. When the author disagrees with the general consensus, he or she must present the reason for his or her disagreement with solid empirical evidence that supports his or her opinion. If the author neglects to present solid evidence that refutes what “they say”, then his or her opinion will be disregarded as strictly an opinion and will have no credibility within the academic world.

The same can be said for when the author generally agrees with the subject matter that he or she is writing about, because, even when the author agrees, there must be some point that the author is attempting to introduce that is different from the consensus opinion.  Otherwise, there the discourse of the paper would be utterly useless, recycled information. Therefore, even when the author agrees, he or she must be presenting a different view or adding information to the general body of work regarding the subject. This view also needs to be supported with clear and credible evidence.  

The most common manifestation of these principles within writing, however, occurs when an author both agrees and disagrees with specific points within the generally accepted consensus opinion regarding the subject being written about. This is prevalent when a particular subject has been widely researched for many years, and, due to this fact, many theories and opinions will have been given over the years, during the course of study. In that time, many of these theories and opinions will have come to be regarded as fact. At this point, it would be absurd to think that the well-versed author would not share some of the views that others have presented about the particular subject, but it is not unheard of for an author to disagree with several points within the general body of accepted opinions and theories regarding the subject. In order to showcase his or her opinion, an author will show support for the opinions that he or she agrees with and refute the opinions that the he or she does not support with strong analysis of empirical evidence.

Another important skill for an author to attain is the ability to make what “they say” into what “I say”. This occurs when an author strongly grasps and believes in a specific concept that another author has already presented and makes the general concept into his or her own either adding to, or slightly altering what was originally written. This technique can add credence to the author’s opinion as he or she is taking a generally accepted opinion and adding his or her own personal spin; therefore, creating his or her footprint within the generally accepted body of work about the particular subject.

Anytime an author asserts a new opinion into a field of study, he or she must be ready for the opinion to be dismantled and questioned. The mark of a veteran writer is evident when he or she is able to anticipate and counter many of the possible arguments that might be presented to refute his or her opinion within the text of the original document. When done properly, this allows the author’s opinion to garner a greater credibility and makes it much more difficult to disprove his or her opinion. This is a difficult skill to master, but it is essential when composing a strong paper that will hold up under scrutiny.

While the line between “I say” and “they say” might be slightly blurred at times, the importance of the inclusion of both elements into an effective essay cannot be overstated. Without these essential elements, any form of communication would be extremely lacking and would lose much of the credibility and peer acceptance that a dual-sided argument garners upon review and study.

Works Cited

Graff, G., Birkenstein, C., & Durst, R. (2009). The Moves That Matter In Academic Writing: They say I say (, pp. 463-481). New York: W.W. Norton & Company .

 

And it’s done…

December 26, 2009 Leave a comment

The presents are opened, the dinners are eaten, and my living room looks like a weapon of mass toy destruction was detonated within its walls. This can only mean one thing…

Christmas 2009 has come and is now gone.

I have to say that, while I am a bit saddened by the passing of the holiday, the overwhelming feeling that is washing over me at this point is relief. I have been accused of being a Scrooge in the past, but this couldn’t be farther from the truth. I actually love Christmas. Not for the presents (although I did get a super sweet present from my parents this year) or the other traditional hubbub that accompanies the most celebrated holiday in American culture. Instead, I adore the time that I get to spend with my family and friends and the memories that we make.

Being at the place I am in my life with school, work, other work, and trying desperately to keep up with all of my other commitments, it seems like my family is the first thing that gets shifted to the back burner. This isn’t ideal, but, honestly, I can see no other way to organize my time and maintain all of my obligations. Fortunately, I have an awesome wife who is understanding (for the most part) and totally supportive even when it seems that we haven’t seen each other for more than five minutes in weeks. She is truly an amazing lady.

During this holiday season, don’t forget to tell those whom you truly love how you feel and thank them for the role that they play in your life. Above all else, though, don’t forget why we celebrate. Jesus is truly the light and our purpose for living.

I hope that your Christmas was awesome!

Categories: Life Tags: , , , , ,

Do Video Games Benefit Adolescent Development?

December 24, 2009 Leave a comment

Question

Does playing video games for greater than six hours per week adversely affect a student’s academic achievement and does the time spent on gaming yield negative social consequences for those taking part in the activity?

Hypothesis

I hypothesize that playing video games for greater than six hours per week will increase the level of a student’s academic achievement while negatively affecting the student’s ability to interact socially with his or her peer group at large.

Population

The population chosen for this observation was adolescent males and females ranging in age from twelve to eighteen. The reason that this population was chosen was due to the fact that 97% of adolescents within this age group report that they play video games regularly (Raine and Smith, 2008). The particular sample being observed was a group of adolescents who attend the youth group at Harmony Baptist Church. This sample group was chosen because this was the only adolescent population group to which the researcher had ready access.

Research Method

In order to assess whether playing video games for greater than six hours per week positively affected an adolescent’s academic achievement and negatively affected his or her social achievement, the researcher composed a twenty-one question survey to gather general data on the habits of the sample and to help identify possible candidates for further interview. The surveys were completed anonymously, with participants who took part in thein-depth  interview volunteering at a later time, after the data from the initial survey had been compiled. Permissions were obtained from parents in order for the adolescents to participate in the survey.

According to the initial research questionnaire, the sample’s responses did not fall in line with data taken from larger research samples of other research groups. Only 30% of the adolescent students sampled played video games and of these, only 15% played for greater than six hours a week. 60% of students reported computer use throughout the week with a vast majority of these hours being spent engaged in on-line social activity, such as Facebook, Myspace, instant messenger programs, or other social networking sites. In the larger data sample, it was found that 97% of adolescents engaged in some sort of video gaming activity (Raine and Smith, 2008).

After the initial survey was completed and the results were compiled, volunteers who responded that they played video games for greater than six hours per week were asked to step forward privately for further interview. Three respondents came forward for in-depth interview. An identical interview was conducted with each of the participants after obtaining parental consent for the interviews. These inquiries yielded very interesting results.

The interviewees were asked probing questions to gauge their academic achievement, their satisfaction with their current level of academic achievement, and their perceived level of social acceptance from their peer group. Interviewee one (I-1) was a thirteen-year-old white male who engaged in gaming activity for twelve hours weekly. Only one hour of this was spent playing with peers weekly and the time spent with peers was sporadic at best. The majority of his gaming time was spent playing alone in his room. He reports that he never plays games on-line with other people.

When asked about his current level of academic achievement, the student expressed that he usually attains A’s and B’s in his classes. This seemed to bother the student as he expressed slight disdain regarding his grades and the desire to improve his scores. The student was then asked why he felt that he needed to do better to which he responded that his parents expect him to do better and his family has a strong history of academic achievement. The interviewee was then questioned as to how video games affected his academic achievement. This was slightly perplexing to the student at first as he had never attempted to connect the two activities. “I have never really thought about that before,” stated I-1, “I guess it really doesn’t help. It takes up a lot of my time, so, sometimes, I slack on schoolwork.”

I-1 felt as if he did not fit in with his peer group at large. He placed more importance maintaining a small group of friends that he could “keep track of”. He proudly proclaimed that he was anti-social in nature. When asked if video games helped or detracted from this feeling, he simply stated that video games provided a place where he could be in control. His home life was stable, with supportive, non-separated parents whom encourage him in whatever he is pursuing, according to I-1.

Interviewee 2 (I-2) was a 14-year-old white male. He spent greater than fifteen hours a week playing video games. This young man also received A’s and B’s in school, but unlike I-1, he was satisfied with his grades. “I think A’s and B’s are good, and so do my parents. I am good with that,” replied I-2 when questioned about his level of satisfaction with his grades. However, I-2 also stated that he believed he could do better if he spent less time playing video games.

I-2 felt as if he was accepted by the majority of his peer group, but also placed more value in the small number of close relationships that he maintained. I-2 stated that video games provide him with a sense of entertainment and a way to escape. His parents are divorced and he lives with his mother. He describes his household as “stormy from time to time.”

Finally, the third interviewee (I-3) was a fourteen-year-old black male whom spent between twelve and fifteen hours a week playing video games. The majority of his gaming time was spent playing with friends, which differentiated him from I-1 and I-2 who spent the majority of their game time playing alone. He received B’s and C’s on his last report card. Like I-2, he was satisfied with his current level of academic achievement. When questioned further, I-3 stated that he simply did not care about learning in school. I-3, like the two interviewees before him, believed that if he spent less time playing video games and more time studying that he could improve his grades.

Unlike I-1 and I-2, I-3 used video games as a way to reach and connect with those around him. He spent all but one hour gaming with friends weekly. “My friends just like video games,” said I-3. He lives in a nice neighborhood with many other children his age whom are interested in the same things. I-3 agrees that his neighborhood has a lot to do with his friends, but unlike I-1 and I-2, I-3 puts more stock into his quantity of friends rather than the quality of the friendships. “I like to have a lot of friends so that I can always find someone to talk to,” replied I-3 when asked about this anomaly. He lives with both of his parents, but his parents are less than supportive of the young man making him do many of the activities that he is involved with alone. Video games provide I-3 with a platform for positive supportive social interaction.

Conclusion

Analysis of the data gleaned from the participant surveys and the in-depth interviews yields an interesting conclusion in response to the hypotheses set forth at the inception of this observation. The first hypothesis regarding gaming for longer than six hours leading to increased academic success seems to be proven false as all the interviewees stated that if they were to decrease the amount of time spent gaming, they could improve their academic performance. This aligns with national studies that have concluded that a large amount of video game time can lead to a lower performance on intelligence marking tests such as the SAT (Vivek, 2007). The question then becomes is the decreased performance related to gaming itself, or is it more related to a time management issue?

The observation research confirms that the decreased performance is more related to the issue of time management rather than the gaming activity itself, as several of the others in the participant surveys also expressed displeasure regarding their current academic status and their desire to improve. The common link is not gaming. Instead, it is an overload of activity; whether it is physical activity, gaming, or social activity, the results are similar.

The data neither supports nor disproves the second hypothesis posed in regard to adolescents who participate in gaming being more socially outcast. On the contrary, it would seem that gaming has the ability to provide those who participate in the activity a common ground on which to bond.

It would seem that the social stereotype that only “nerds” play video games is slowly passing away. Video games are becoming more a part of mainstream society every day. The reasons behind this are as unique as the individuals who take part in the activity. From providing social interaction to providing a means of escape, gaming has become a huge part of the adolescent and young adult culture of society and it does not look like the activity will be going anywhere anytime soon as technological advances continue to make it easier to play video games wherever and whenever one would like.

It would behoove society to adapt to this growing cultural phenomenon. Instead of attempting to remove gaming from the adolescent landscape, it might be more prudent for the leaders of society to take advantage of this platform, much as Barack Obama did with YouTube during his presidential campaign. Young people need to be taught how to manage their time while maintaining their identities. Many of these young people’s identities are wrapped up in the pixilated reality where they can be the king or Cassanova. To deny this tendency will lead to further rebellion from this generation, but to encourage and exploit it might lead to the reform for which many of society’s leaders are calling.

 

Works Cited

NPD Group Inc. (2009, May 20). More Americans Play Video Games than Go Out to the

     Movies. Accessed at: http://www.npd.com/press/releases/press_090520.html

 Rainie, L, & Smith, A (2008). The Internet and the 2008 Election. Teens, Video Games,

     and Civics, 2008, Retrieved June 11, 2009, Accessed at:

     http://pewinternet.org/Reports/2008/Teens-Video-     Games-and-Civics.aspx?r=1

Vivek, A (2007). A study of time management: The correlation between video game

     usage and academic performance markers. Cyber Psychology & Behavior. 10,

     552-559. Available Online at: http://www.liebertonline.com/doi/abs/10.1089/cpb.2007.9991

Frustrating Duality: An explication of Claude McKay’s “America”

December 21, 2009 6 comments

Love and hate are two of the most profound emotions that a person can experience during his or her time on Earth. On the surface, these emotions are extremely different as they are polar opposites, but a deeper analysis yields some haunting similarities as well. These emotions are two of the most raw and  consuming feelings which a person can experience throughout his or her lifetime. Both of these feelings can drive a man or woman to behavioral extremes. Many have been killed in both the name of love and hate. Therefore, while these emotions are wholly different regarding the connotation that they purvey to the person experiencing the affection, the depth and breadth of these emotions are eerily similar. In the poem “America” by Claude McKay, the reader is treated to the beautiful expression of both of these emotions in a poem full of frustrating duality and an extremely strong statement about society.

The piece is a standard sonnet composed of three quatrains and a couplet written in iambic pentameter featuring the traditional English rhyming scheme. Throughout the poem, McKay ferries back and forth between his intense positive and negative feelings of both America and the American societal norms of the period. This particular poem was originally published in 1921. This was a very exciting time for many Americans as the roaring twenties were coming into full swing and society was celebrating the decade of carefree decadence, but there was a dark underbelly to America as well at the time. Blacks in the South, where McKay resided after emigrating from Jamaica, were being heavily discriminated against and Jim Crow’s ugly hands were clutched firmly around many of the supposed “rights” that were given to blacks. This bitter dichotomy of mixed emotion, which was the dominant attitude portrayed by blacks at the time, reigns supreme within this poem.

In the first quatrain, McKay begins by expressing his disdain for America; however, he also expresses his dependence on the country as well. When he states “Although she feeds me bread of bitterness” (1), the speaker is telling the reader that he or she depends on America for his or her bread as a child depends on its mother. This leads the reader to believe that the speaker in McKay’s poem recognizes the fact that America is the source of his or her provision, although the food that is being provided is that of bitterness. This particular statement also might lend itself to the underlying feeling that many black Americans were experiencing at this time regarding their limited rights in the South. The country was responsible for seeing that blacks were given equal rights, but these rights were restricted unless the man could reach very unreal expectations. This led to bitterness among the Southern blacks.

McKay felt as if America were draining the life from his spirit which is evidenced when he states, “[America] sinks into my throat her tiger’s tooth, / Stealing my breath of life, I will confess” (2-3). This is another commentary on the how the unequal treatment of blacks at the time had the effect of slowly draining the spirit from the proud people. The speaker now introduces a conflicting idea that the reader might not expect. “…I must confess, / I love this cultured hell that tests my youth!” (3-4). Although the speaker began the piece with strong negative feelings for American society, he or she signifies his strong positive feelings for America in this line. This is the first outright evidence of the strange mixed feelings that the speaker expresses throughout the poem. Even in this line, though, the speaker uses the phrase “cultured hell” (4) which is another indication of negativity within the more positive spirit of the line further making an example of the dichotomy that exists throughout the piece. It seems as if McKay relishes the challenges, both physical and intellectual, that American society presented to him during this time period.

The second quatrain takes on a more positive focus, seemingly leading the reader to see some of the reasons that the speaker does, in fact, have positive feelings for America. “Her vigor flows like tides into my blood, / Giving me strength erect against her hate” (5-6).  These lines indicate that the strength of the burgeoning country was the energy that fueled the speaker’s life.  The most interesting interaction within this piece of text is the insurgence that the speaker brings out within the conflicting nature of the prose. While the speaker is boldly proclaiming that America is the source of his or her strength, he or she is rebelling against the provider of that strength and using it to stand up against the racial hate that was prevalent during this time period in America. Although the speaker is standing in strength against the bigotry and injustice within America, he or she seems to feel as if his or her personal stand might be insignificant within the larger picture of the struggle for equality. “Her bigness sweeps my being like a flood” (7). It is impossible for a single person to resist the mighty rushing waters of a flood as it rolls over the land. Perhaps, the speaker is expressing the futility of one person standing against the bigoted history of a nation alone. However, just because the speaker stands alone in futility, it does not preclude him from taking that stand.

“Yet as a rebel fronts a king of state, / I stand with her walls with not a shred / Of terror, malice, not a word of jeer” (8-10). Nothing good normally comes for a rebel that has to stand before a king. Generally speaking, when this did occur it was because the king was either handing down or carrying out a judicial sentence. This is another example from within this body of prose where McKay perverts the perceived societal norm and leads the reader down another less traveled avenue. The speaker is standing in confidence before the racist ideals to which society held, as a rebel would stand full of pride before the king. Interestingly, it is the reaction from the “king” that breaks down the expected barrier within the interaction between the two parties. He does not strike out, nor does he express  ill-will or coarse words to the upstart standing in his court. The rebel stands boldly before the king within his walled fortress, because the rebel is protected by the law. This is another metaphor for the true divergence of the American ideal and the reality that existed within America at the time.

Free speech is guaranteed by the first amendment of the Constitution. Therefore, the speaker within this poem can stand before the governing body of American society in confidence because he knows that his or her speech is protected by the law. However, the antonym presented to this concept is the fact that many in society, especially Southern society, did not believe in the ideals of the king, and would bring hate and malice against the speaker for his or her stance regardless of what the king decreed. This is exhibited in places where discrimination and racism were running rampantly throughout society although the government stated that all men were created equal and should be afforded equal rights under the law.

The poem concludes on a melancholy note as the speaker gives his or her prediction for the future of America. “Darkly I gaze into the days ahead, / And see her might and granite wonders there, / Beneath the touch of Time’s unerring hand, / Like priceless treasures sinking in the sand” (11-14).  Traditionally in the United States, in order to pay homage to a noteworthy citizen,  group of people, or a historically significant event, a stone monument is erected in order for the generations of the future to remember the deeds of those who have come before. In this passage, the speaker is mentally surveying the statues that have been constructed as a reminder of great deeds and people in American history. The speaker then states that America will eventually fade away under the non-stop pressure posed by the unending press of time. It is interesting that the speaker uses the phrase “sinking in the sand” (14). This leads the reader to believe that the speaker believes that American society will eventually fade away in the same way that so many great civilizations ebbed into extinction or anonymity without fanfare.

The strong use of metaphor and duplicity within this poem lead the reader down an emotionally charged path. The stark duality that McKay presents within the piece is the purpose behind the prose. This is representative of the duality that many blacks felt during this time period. Although there are some technical errors within McKay’s sonnet structure, the point of the prose is clear. McKay is defining the strange place in which blacks found themselves in the early 20th century. They were technically free under the law, but were oppressed as a result of societal stigma and the prejudice tradition that endured in America following slavery. The confused cry that McKay issues from the lines of this poem are the echoes of a generation stuck between true equality and false hope.

Works Cited

McKay, Claude. “America.” The Norton Anthology: American Literature. Shorter 7th Edition. Ed.

Nina Baym. New York: Norton Company, 2008. 2147.

Pride’s Transcendence to Hope: A Reflection on “I, Too”

December 17, 2009 Leave a comment

Pride is often portrayed as a burr on the pristine coat of society. It is spoken down upon and condemned as the root cause of so many problems that come about in our culture. The Bible speaks of pride in much the same way. Proverbs 16:18 states, “Pride comes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.” This human characteristic has long been seen as an eyesore within the human condition, but is there a time when pride can lead one out of destruction? Perhaps lead an entire race from the “kitchen to the table?” Upon reading “I, Too,” the reader is confronted with a strong statement of pride. This pride, however, is not based in arrogance; instead, it extends from the very core of what it means to be a human being and to be valuable and worthy.

Hughes begins his acclaimed poem by stating, “I, too, sing American” (1). Although subtle in its proclamation, this line of verse sets the strong and defiant tone of racial pride that the remainder of the piece accentuates. This is a direct affront to the societal norm of the white dominated social and political atmosphere of the time period. The first concept that the reader confronts is Hughes’ idealization of the brotherhood of all Americans that is transcendent of skin tone. One of Hughes’ personal purposes for writing was to implore the American nation to look beyond the obvious color of a person’s skin and into the character of the person inside. He wanted black Americans to be seen in an empowered standing, so the central theme of his writings always painted black Americans in a positive light, directing the attention of his writing specifically to what the black community had to offer the American people at the time.

Although Hughes’ writing was directed to cast a positive light onto the plight and the accomplishments of black Americans, he was not shy about stating his personal feelings about his idealization of the black race. He used his writing to enflame a generation to a level of racial pride that was previously unknown to the “darker brother.” “Tomorrow, /I’ll be at the table when company comes. /Nobody’ll dare /say to me, /‘Eat in the kitchen.’ /Then./ Besides, /they’ll see how beautiful I am /and be ashamed− /I, too, am American” (8-18). This passage screams of racial pride and calls for the utter decimation of racial prejudice in America. Hughes, along with writers such as W.E.B Dubois and Claude McKay, used their extreme affinity toward their own race, displayed in their writings, as a catalyst to begin to collect the tinder that would help to ignite the sweltering bonfire that engulfed an entire nation in the movement for the proper civil rights of black Americans that dominated the social and political landscape of the 1960s. Without such amazing writers, who unashamedly spoke so boldly and defiantly in the face of the racist attitude that had dominated the United States dating back to its inception, such a movement from obscurity to equality could never have occurred.

“I, too” is a keynote piece within the initial rumblings of the fight for equal civil rights, but it is also more than that. This poem, originally penned to bring to light the hope for racial equality, transcends the theme for which it was written. The hope of the lyric is perhaps more salient than even the evident racial pride that Hughes expresses within the verse. The inspirational transformation that happens from the beginning of the poem where Hughes states “I, too, sing American” (1) to the end where Hughes exclaims with a quiet finality “I, too, am American” (18) has a farther reaching prognosis encompassing much more than racial equality. This poem is a beacon to the downtrodden. It is a lifeline to those who feel like they are in their darkest hour. It is a call for the reader to look beyond the abysmal outlook of his or her current circumstance to the shining light that is the possible future that waits just beyond the horizon. It encompasses the ideal that one can move beyond his or her current circumstances to finally realize the dreams and goals that each has set to accomplish within the small sliver of time that is granted to all the members of the human race to leave a lasting impact on future of humanity.

Pride based in an arrogant attitude leads to destruction. This destructive pride is not the the attitude that Hughes expresses within “I, Too.”  Instead, the racial pride within this poem is a call to the American people to transcend prejudice  based solely upon the color of an individual’s skin. Racial pride is the root of this amazing piece, but the fruit of its branch is hope. Hope that one day equality would be more than a dream. Hope that a person’s life would not be pre-determined simply by the color of the individual’s skin. Instead, the hope of this poem is that the merit and achievement of an individual would be given more weight than something that is determined prior to birth and cannot change. This is a piece of empowerment to the weak and weary to look forward and to not lose the belief that circumstances do change when the individual is willing to put forth the effort to ensure that the change occurs regardless of naysayers. Hughes’ captivating writing was the voice of a generation. A voice that would not be silenced and continues to speak today in the whispers of the broken when they realize that hope is real, tangible, and attainable. “I, too, am American” (18).

Works Cited

Hughes, Langston. “I, too.” The Norton Anthology: American Literature. Shorter 7th Edition. Ed. Nina

                Baym. New York: Norton Company, 2008. 2266.

Zondervan NIV Bible.  Fully rev. ed.  Kenneth L. Barker, gen. ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002. 

                Print.

Consumerism

December 16, 2009 Leave a comment

I am a member and the interim worship leader of a wonderful little congregation in Missouri called Harmony Baptist Church. A few months ago, we had a tragic parting of ways where a significant portion of our congregation decided they did not like the direction that the church was heading and that they would be better off pursuing their idea of what a church should be elsewhere. Unfortunately, it seems that the decision of whether or not to hire me as the worship pastor was the final straw for this group. Honestly, this was a kick in the teeth to me. I have done nothing but give my heart and soul to this congregation for ten years, yet I was not good enough to pursue my call at Harmony in their opinion.

I’m not bitter. Really.

Everything seems to be working out in a positive Godly direction, though. I am still leading worship as the interim worship director and the congregation enjoys the music and my teaching,  so all’s well that ends well, right? Well, I don’t know about that, but the church is moving forward.  We are truly and earnestly seeking to be the hands and feet of Christ, but we are really still in our infancy. The church has been around for twenty-plus years, but this “new church” (which is really what we are considering ourselves) has only been attempting to get off the ground for about six months now. There are definitely exciting things on the horizon, but, honestly, I am having some issues with letting go of what happened and I believe that when we truly understand our mistakes, we have a much better chance of making the correct choice when a similar problem decides to rear its ugly head.

So what was the problem?

In my humble estimation, the issue that ripped Harmony apart (ironic, eh?) boils down to consumerism. Consumerism is the attitude that instills the thought processes that makes us ask questions like  “what can I get out of this?” or “what is this church doing for me?” The consumer is the person who attends church and says, “I didn’t really get anything out of the sermon,” or “I really got a lot out of the music today.” While one of these statements is positive and one is negative, they are both steeped in consumerism. I saw first-hand how people who are in church for the sole purpose of seeing themselves exalted or to be put in a position of power can literally stop a congregation that is working for God dead in its track. This has really been a heartbreaking experience for me. I couldn’t get over their selfish attitude. Or at least, that is what I thought.

Interesting isn’t it…when you look out at other people’s issues how God turns it all back into an introspective journey where you end up seeing just how much you fail. That is the point that I came to several weeks ago. I realized that I was just a younger version of the people who decided to leave. I realized that the consumerist attitudes that drove them away fall into the same consumerist ideals that I hold dear and propagate.

The  older group that left was staunchly against contemporary Christian music in the church. As I would lead worship, they would stand in the back (back row Baptists! Woo!) with theirs arms crossed and glare for the entire worship service. Honestly, this was extremely wearing on me as a worship leader. I used to think, “Man, how in the world can they sit there and stifle the Holy Spirit like that,” but as I said, God has a way of turning me back to the plank in my own eye.

As I began to really dig into what their problem was, God opened my eyes to my own problem and revealed that I have exactly the same atttitude as the group that left. I am not a huge proponent of traditional church music. That is not to say that I hate hymns. That isn’t true at all. I find that many hymns are relevant and amazing, but the style that traditionally accompanies hymns (read: Piano and an organ accompaniment) is not relevant to society as a whole any longer. So, there I was, pointing fingers and scowling under my breath and God looked me dead in the face and called me out for the hypocrite that I was. The truth is, I am just as unbending as the traditionalists that left the church. Try to take away my Tomlin, Hillsongs United, and Crowder and I would be just as upset.

Would I split a church? Probably not. But would I look for a different congregation that suited my preferences better? You bet I would and that is the root of consumerism. To spin an old JFK quote we should:

“Ask not what the kingdom of God can do for us, but what we can do for the kingdom of God.”

If we worship under the banner of preference and consumerism, then we really miss out on the amazing things that God has planned for us as the Church.

Beloved Church, the time has come to let personal preference fall to the wayside and return to the root of why we worship. That is the amazing love of Jesus Christ.

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