Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Denizens of Dystopia

The Grade 12 English class read the novel The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood and each wrote an analytical essay on an aspect of the novel. Here is Dev Darshan Kaur's:

Denizens of Dystopia

In Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale the characters all serve a similar purpose: to provide an explanation and understanding of the structure of the society to the reader. While the main characters must aid in plot and story development, there are some minor characters whose only purpose is to provide a clearer picture of the setting. However, Atwood is extremely skilled at incorporating these characters into the plotline of the novel. These characters are essential to the reader’s full comprehension of the world Offred inhabits.

One of the first minor characters that provides us with insight into the working of Offred’s mind is Aunt Lydia. Aunt Lydia’s character provides a view of how the society is producing its Handmaids. Offred’s references to Aunt Lydia are always in the form of ideas she has continuously repeated and instilled into the Handmaids at the Red Center. Offred seems to associate all philosophies and ideals of the Republic with the personality of Aunt Lydia. Aunt Lydia was Offred’s first encounter with her new position in life, and she represents the control the society has over women, their actions, even their thoughts.

Aunt Lydia seems to be a true believer in the system. The stories she tells and the messages she imparts are delivered in a manner of true conviction. She appears to be very emotionally involved in the issues she preaches upon. “Modesty is invisibility . . . Never forget it. To be seen – to be seen – is to be – her voice trembled – penetrated” (28). In order for the society to operate, they must employ women to control and, in a sense, brainwash the other women. A group is best controlled when its own members are put in positions of power and brought to believe in what they are serving. Aunt Lydia thinks that she is helping the women that she is training. “I’m doing my best, she said. I’m trying to give you the best chance you can have. . . Don’t think it’s easy for me either . . .” (55).

During one specific event we are given an opportunity to see a different aspect of the world Gilead is a part of. Even though Offred’s encounter with the Japanese visitors is fairly short, occupying only a few pages, it is a very useful view into the outside world. We are able to see that life has gone on normally in other places despite the drastic changes that have taken place in the United States.

Although Atwood mostly describes the visitors’ appearances through the voice of Offred, we also are given an opportunity to view their reactions and to a degree begin to understand their feelings towards this new government. Offred sees how intriguing she and Ofglen are to the Japanese, how curious they are about their situation. "I can feel their bright black eyes on us, the way they lean a little forward . . . the women especially . . . (29). It is a natural curiosity, one that comes of a small amount of knowledge about the makeup of the society but no clear idea of the inner workings, the feelings and emotions, of the people who live in it. Offred understands this. ". . . we are secret, forbidden, we excite them" (29).

Atwood also takes this opportunity to show the irony of the society that has been created in what was the United States. These visitors, mainly the women, are dressed not in the traditional styles of their own region but in the clothing they have adopted from the West, particularly from the United States. Their skirts are short, their shoes, high heels, are impractical, they are wearing makeup, and their hair is uncovered. Offred, while first "fascinated, but also repelled" (28) by the apparent immodesty of these women, soon drops the mindset that has been recently instilled in her by the new society. "Then I think: I used to dress like that. That was freedom" (29). She hasn’t completely adapted to the new values of the society.

The minor characters of The Handmaid’s Tale are crucial in the expansion of the world the reader sees through the telling of Offred’s story. Characters are always one of the most important aspects of a story, but Atwood utilizes the minor ones particularly well in this tale. Without characters such as Aunt Lydia and the Japanese visitors our understanding of the Republic of Gilead would not be as complete. These characters make the setting of The Handmaid’s Tale much richer and much more comprehensive.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Literary essay

Last semester, one of the Grade 11 classes read the novel Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston while the other read the novel Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko. We came up with a list of essay topics for each novel, and students wrote on one of their choice. Here is Bibi's essay about Ceremony.

The Whorls of Life

In the book Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko there are many references made to certain aspects of life that struck my attention. Such as having the ability to achieve the impossible. It made me think about how modern day society stops people from taking a second to be grateful for everything they have instead of complaining about everything they don’t have. I also realize that the respect the people used to have for the earth no longer exists. Tayo taught me this and healed himself by breaking though these barriers throughout the book and by realizing the difference between him and his friends.

In this novel there are two different types of people. Those who respect the earth with all their heart and those who couldn’t care less. After Josiah says, “‘this is were we come from, see. This sand, this stone, these trees, the vines, all the wild flowers. This earth keeps us going’” (45), I realized that we live on the earth and it’s the earth that is serving us. People take advantage of it and destroy the earth by cutting down forests and building huge factories, thinking that the earth is just an object to experiment on, rather than realizing that it’s the earth that feeds us when were hungry and shelters us when its cold. It’s the earth that gives us a home.

Tayo knows this and respects the animals by filling their tracks with pollen such as “the yellow spotted snake [who was] the first to emerge, carrying this message [that the world was alive] on his back to the people” (221). He also covered the deer’s head with his coat because “the people said you should do that before you gutted a deer. Out of respect”(51). He carefully shakes the snow off the tree to keep its branches from breaking (208) and he respects the rain when he realizes Josiah was right when he said, “Nothing is all good or all bad either” (11).

In life there are some things such as the heat of the sun or the shade of the trees that all people either complain there is too much of or too little of. In Ceremony it was the rain that Tayo complained about. When he was in the jungle he cursed the rain for never stopping and he blamed the rain for killing Rocky (12), but when he is home on the ranch it is the rain that he prays for. “‘Nothing is all good or all bad either’” (11). When Josiah said this it made me realize that we should just be grateful for what we do have because some where in the world there is someone else who wants it. The lack of gratitude is one of the barriers Tayo had to break through in order to heal.

“They were not barriers if a person wanted to get to the moon there was a way; it all depended on weather you knew the directions-exactly which way to go and what to do to get there; it depended on weather you knew the story of how others before you had gone” (19). It was this that Tayo needed to know to heal. The “they” referred to above is talking about a physical barrier, the high sandstone cliff of a mesa, but on a broader spectrum it refers to any obstacle in life that makes us doubt our ability to achieve what we want. In life when you know what to do or you follow in the path of someone who has already succeeded, you have a better chance of succeeding yourself. Tayo followed the path of Coyote with the guidance of Betonie by making hoops of hard oak, scrub oak, and pinon, tieing them together with yucca, and sitting in the middle of a sand panting (141). I’ve learned that by following a path that has already been walked I can achieve anything I want. Tayo may not have realized, but by choosing to follow the path laid out by Betonie, Kh’oosh, and Ts’eh, he would eventually reach his goal of being healed.

All in all, Tayo’s journey from sickness to health showed me that there are many different ways of dealing with situations in your life. Whether it is taking the high road and becoming a better person by breaking thought barriers or taking the easy way by drinking and numbing the pain in your life. That’s how Tayo was different. He had the strength and ability to see that the world was a gift and was grateful for that. He used that knowledge and understanding to his advantage, healing himself and consequently healing everyone around him.

Dreaming Of Bases In The Land Of Wickets

Here's a personal essay from Hari Simran Singh from Grade 12:

Dreaming Of Bases In The Land Of Wickets
by Hari Simran Singh Khalsa
I doubt that many people have ever listened to the live radio broadcast of Game Seven of the National League Championship Series at the break of dawn on a chilly Punjabi morning. When I found myself in this peculiar, and probably unprecedented, situation, I felt blessed, just as Sir Edmund Hillary must have felt when his blue eyes took in the view from the top of the world. Granted, I did not have to face the difficulties that he faced prior to attaining this feeling, but I am certain that it was that same part of the brain, that same voice that declares, “I am unique!”, that spoke up in my mind as I listened to Gary Cohen’s play-by-play through laptop speakers in the staff office of Miri Piri Academy.
I am a baseball fan by nature (the spirit of Ebbets Field lives on in us Brooklynites) and a Mets fan by nurture (even though I pray for a subway series every year). During my summer break I follow the sport through the Times at breakfast, on the radio in my dad’s car, and on the TV when the games aren’t on cable. I also go to both stadiums at least once before September rolls around and I have to return to boarding school in India . Back at Miri Piri Academy , I check the scores and news daily in the same computer lab in which I am typing this, and I stay connected to the New York passion for the game through my phone conversations with my dad.
Sadly, none of the activities of this school involve Louiseville Sluggers or four-seem fastballs. I distract myself with basketball and an occasional soccer game, plus a good deal of yoga and meditation, which are emphasized in our education.
To teach us how to live a yogic lifestyle is one of the chief goals of Miri Piri Academy . This involves yoga classes almost everyday, teacher training during school, and an early morning start to the day. A couple times each year we do forty day programs during which we get up at three or four to practice a specific meditation. The first of these 40 day Sadhanas usually coincides with the end of the season and the playoffs.
The Mets had the best team in baseball this past season. They conquered the NL East and seemed certain to continue their victorious run through the post season. In the Division Series they toppled the Dodgers without too much difficulty and advanced to the National League Championship Series, where they faced off with one of they’re more worthy rivals, the St. Louis Cardinals.
Most playoffs games happen at night, starting at around 7 PM , Eastern Standard Time. This equates to about six in the morning on my side of the world, which is right when we’re nearing the end of our early morning meditation. Each day that I knew the Mets were playing a game I was consumed with speculation from the time I woke up ( 4:30 ) to the time when I could manage to get in the computer lab during school (usually around ten).
It was a very close series. The pitching and the hitting were outstanding on both sides. After six games, they had won three apiece which forced a seventh, deciding, game. Due to injuries and lack of rest on their pitching staffs, the Mets and the Cards both had to start reserve pitchers.
Throughout the chanting and yogic exercise on the morning of this vastly important game my focus alternated between God and the state of the Mets’ lineup and bullpen. I remembered that Sat Avtar, a friend and fellow Brooklynite, had invited me to listen to the game on the radio through a service she had signed up for on the Internet.
As soon as our Sadhana was over we rushed over to the staff office, where her laptop was. It was the fifth inning and the Mets were winning 2-0. Both starting pitchers were doing extraordinarily well. My attention was locked on the game, but I was feeling somewhat dislocated, even dimensionally removed, because of the oddity of the situation. In between innings there were commercials that offered $50 gift certificates to Tony’s Italian Steak House on Broadway. Dollars don’t mean much to me, the lifestyle that the school follows forbids steak, and I’m twelve thousand miles away from Broadway, as well as a nice little plane ride away from any Italians named Tony. Nonetheless, I felt the same excitement as the fans I could hear roaring in the stadium that would love to get fifty bucks to spend at Tony’s. My heart jumped just as high when Albert Pujols’ smash was snatched by Endy Chavez as it was about to sail over the wall, and the same chant of “Rally, rally!” was going though my head after the Mets’ lead slipped away in the top of the eighth. When they could not come up with the tying run with the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth, I hung my head in unison with the ballpark crowd of fifty thousand.
As I shuffled out of the staff office that morning, it became my own stadium, filled with the quiet of dashed hopes. My team had lost but my situation was the same. I was still one of the best Mets fans in this wonderful land of yoga and wickets.

Literary essay

Last semester, one of the Grade 11 classes read the novel Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston while the other read the novel Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko. We came up with a list of essay topics for each novel, and students wrote on one of their choice. Here is Bibi's essay about Their Eyes Were Watching God.

The Desires of Life

The novel “Their Eyes Were Watching God” by Zora Neale Hurston not only portrays the experience of a black woman living in the 1930’s, but it also depicts the way women have been living for decades. This book explains the desires, and thoughts of a black woman, Janie, as she lives her life. Some people say that this book only tells the struggles of a black woman, and if this novel were based on the life of a white woman, it would be very different. I beg to differ. In some way, all women have the same cravings for love, similar desires for respect, and equal ideas about living their lives for themselves.

In the first chapter Janie “was stretched on her back beneath the pear tree soaking the alto chant of the visiting bees … so this was marriage”(11). Janie was full of desire, from the first time she lay underneath the “pear tree,” to the day that “ She pulled in her horizon like a great fish-net … and draped it over her shoulder”(143). The “pear tree” was part of her. Throughout Janie’s life, she has many people who try to control, and stop her from fulfilling her desires. It begins with her grandmother, and doesn’t end until her second husband dies.

Janie is forced to marry at the mere age of 16. When she tries to stand up for herself, and tells her grandmother that she doesn’t want to get married, [Her grandmother] “slapped the girl’s face violently, and forced her head back so that their eyes met in a struggle”(14). Her second husband, Jody, forces her to do many things including demanding that “ … her hair was NOT going to show in the store” (55) as well as not allowing Janie to join in with the porch talk: “… Joe had forbidden her to indulge”(53). Both of these things should have been Janie’s choice, not her grandmother’s nor her husband’s. Many people feel like they need to make decisions for women, or protect them from the real world. Something that people just don’t seem to see is that women are just as strong as men. They deserve their freedom of life, liberty, and happiness. It is a right, which everyone deserves.

As Janie grows older, she becomes more aware, and begins to make decisions for herself. The first choice that she makes is leaving her first husband, Logan Killicks. She tells herself that “Yes, she would love Logan after they were married”(21). Janie makes this statement before she was married to Logan Killicks, and she tries to love him the best to her nature. The problem is, Janie has always dreamed of having a love like “a blossoming pear tree,”(10) and she knew that Logan was not that love. Some day she would find a man to fulfill her desires, but not then.
That time came sooner than she expected. Janie met a man by the name of Joe, and knew that this was her ticket out of her unhappy marriage. She was aware that Joe wasn’t her “pear tree” but she saw that he was a man who would take care of her, and maybe lead her to the love that she had been longing for. As women mature they tend to make decisions, which may not be what they want at that time, but they know that in the long run will be beneficial to them. This is what Janie slowly learns to do as the novel progresses. After many years of marriage to Jody, it begins to turn sour. Joe slowly becomes more and more disrespectful to her, and begins to compare her to animals: ‘“Dats cause you need telling … somebody got to think for women and chillun and chickens and cows”’(71). Imagine how degrading that must feel, (being compared to a chicken, or a cow.) The thing that is quite surprising to me is that there are still many people who think like that, men as well as women. They believe that they should be stopped from being involved in important things, from women not being able to vote, to women being discriminated against in certain job positions. Why has there never been a female president? It is because society feels like a female won’t be able to do the job, and because this is pounded into every woman’s head, most women feel like they wouldn’t be able to do the job. In the 1930’s woman were being held back, and today woman are still being held back.

This novel is full of dreams, wishes and ideas. Janie’s mind never stops, and she is full of longing. In the beginning of the book, she says, “Ah wants things sweet wid mah marriage lak when you sit under a pear tree and think”(24). This is the perfect example of what Janie desires. I cannot count how many times Janie refers back to the “pear tree.” She yearns for somebody to make her feel how she feels when she sits underneath the pear tree, just enjoying the spring day. This is a very common feeling for a woman. Usually there is something that makes a woman feel so peaceful, so perfect, and so happy. For most it won’t be a pear tree, but it is a feeling that many woman know oh too well. The biggest thing that this novel taught me, had to do with love. It showed me how strong a bond Janie had with Tea Cake, her third husband, and what it meant once she truly found her “pear tree.”

In conclusion, woman share many similar qualities. It doesn’t matter their race, religion, where they come from, or what their interests are. This book showed me how a black woman living in the 1930’s was very much the same as a white woman living in 2006. It all comes down to that there is a correlation between women. Although we may not be aware of the connection between all women, there is a connection, and it brings us all together. I am sure that any woman who is reading this essay has felt one of these feelings, or has had desires that Janie has.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Literary essay

Last semester, one of the Grade 11 classes read the novel Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston while the other read the novel Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko. We came up with a list of essay topics for each novel, and students wrote on one of their choice. Here is Jessica's essay about the importance of the minor character, Mrs. Turner in Their Eyes Were Watching God:

Mrs. Turner, a metaphor for the madness

Zora Neil Hurston’s novel, Their Eyes were Watching God, does not include many direct references to the racism of the time. Some critics have even accused her of glossing over the more intense issues. I feel however that although this is a story of a woman’s internalized journey for love, it successfully conveys the prejudices of the time through the character of Mrs. Turner. The scenes with Mrs. Turner are some of the few that discuss racism directly.
Normally you read a very stereotypical scenario of racism in which the person put in the superior position by society uses racism as an excuse to abuse the downtrodden. Mrs. Turner is an example of the opposite, internalized racism. She helps to illustrate the irony of racism as she pursues a hierarchy that will still leave her at the bottom. “If it wuzn’t for so many black folks it wouldn’t be no race problem” (141). Mrs. Turner is making a distinction in her skin color that seems trivial but shows the hypocrisy of the larger prejudice.
Many white readers of this novel might not realize the racial power struggles and insecurities within the black community. “Anyone who looked more white folkish than herself was better than she was in criteria, therefore it was right that they should be cruel to her at times, just as she was cruel to those more negroid than herself in direct proportion to their negroness” (144). This gives another factor of racism besides just the oppressor. The idea of accepting being lower and then trying to elevate yourself on the backs of your kin, proves how deeply rooted the racism was.
In the plot of the novel Mrs. Turner plays the role of a subtle villain. She plants seeds of jealousy in Teacakes’ mind and manipulates his own insecurities of his own place in the hierarchy. This leads to the only situation, besides his death, were Teacake feels the need to establish physical dominance over Janie. “Before the week was over he had whipped Janie. Not because her behavior justified his jealousy, but it relieved that awful fear inside of him” (147). Teacake is put in an inferior position by being blacker than Janie, but he is still her husband and uses the power that he has to compensate. This same power struggle is playing when Teacake dies, and his madness could be compared to the irrationality of Mrs. Turner.
I believe that Hurston, in keeping with the tone of her novel uses Mrs. Turner as a vessel for the larger antagonist, the madness and insecurity that eventually lead to Teacakes death. Through the scenarios created by Mrs. Turner the reader receives a unique perspective on the racism throughout the novel.

Monday, January 01, 2007

I Have Always Down Syndrome
a personal essay from Guruprakash Singh, Grade 12:

I have Always Down Syndrome (ADS). Now before you jump to conclusions, let me explain to you exactly what Always Down Syndrome is. Always Down Syndrome is when you are always down to do something. For example somebody asks, “Hey man, you down?” and then you feel every single god given fiber in your body scream “don’t do it!” Then out of your mouth utters your doom: “yeah man I’m down!” Always Down Syndrome isn’t peer pressure either. It’s plain simple idiotic young teen pride. I have somewhat conquered the vile clutches of Always Down Syndrome. Now here is one of the many stories that lead me to think that I have made my escape.

It was a Sunday. The smell of wheat in full harvest mixed with the beating sun to make the perfect formula for laziness. My mind was free from any worry; it was a perfect beginning to the perfect morning of a dreary day. Just as I was preparing to relax for 14 hours straight I heard a shout that hit me harder than a cinder block to the back of the head, ”Kabbadi trip, if you’re on the kabbadi team we’re leaving right now!” “Aw crap!”was about the only thing I could think as I got ready to go to some far off competition were we all new the only reason that we were going was because we were white (for news coverage) and for integration of our school with the public of the Punjab. When we arrived, we were tired to the point only a Greek on the sixth day of Thermopoli could possibly understand.

We played, were beaten, and were then rushed on the stage to get our picture taken with these medals with a tractor on it, “the victorious angrez” (the Punjabi word for Englishmen). We were beaten, broken and had scratches -- not the kind that leave scars -- the ones that stay there for a week and sting real bad.

When I got back to the school, I was ready to go into hibernation when Raj Paul's older brother, Ajay came up to me and said, “Hey, Ka$h, you wanna play football?”

Once again any common sense I possessed at that time vanished when my (ADS) kicked in. I said, “Yeah, sure, bro.”

As I went out on to the football field my adrenaline was the only thing keeping me standing. Within a couple of minutes I caught a pass and ran with everything I had, but as you know, I didn’t have very much at the time. I remember this moment exactly how the movies portray it: in slow motion. Rishi was blocking for me on my right side and blocked Hari Amrit’s older brother from smearing me, but Har Rai came around the front of the block, and as our combined weight (330 lbs) came down hard on my poor left wrist, I heard a sickening “pop!” I held up my arm to display a roller coaster of flesh and broken bone.

I was laughing out of shock (I usually do when I break/fracture/tear something). I was put on an ambulance to the hospital that had to be the most bumpy painful ambulance ride I had ever experienced. On that ambulance ride, I had a lot of time to reflect on how the misconception of invincibility led me to play tackle football with no pads and no energy. It also gave me time to come up with the term Always Down Syndrome.

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