Writing on Women Writers

A site for college students to write about women writers.


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recitatif in Recitatif

Toni Morrison’s writing style aims to involve the reader emotionally. She says, “my writing expects, demands, participatory reading, and that I think is what literature is supposed to do. It’s not just about telling a story; it’s about involving the reader. The reader supplies the emotions. The reader supplies even some color, some sound. My language has to have holes and spaces so the reader can come into it” (1225).

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I think it’s interesting that Morrison refers to her writing as her “language.” A word I’s use to describe her work is “genuine.” Morrison writes the way she speaks. It is no wonder the reader can be so emotionally connected to her stories. The language is relatable.

Along those lines, Morrison uses the style of recitatif, which is also the title of the story. This style relates to that of recitatif in opera, in which a character sings in a thoughtful, speech-like manner preceding the aria. An aria is closer to what we know of as a song.

“It really wasn’t bad, St. Bonny’s. The big girls on the second floor pushed us around now and then. But that was all. They wore lipstick and eyebrow pencil and wobbled their knees while they watched TV. Fifteen, sixteen, even some of them were. They were put-out girls, scared runaways most of them. Poor little girls who fought their uncles off but looked tough to us, and mean. God, did they look mean. The staff tried to keep them separate from the younger children, but sometimes they caught us watching them in the orchard where they played radios and danced with each other. They’d light out after us and pull our hair and twist our arms. We were scared of them, Roberta and me, but neither of us wanted the other one to know it “ (1226).

As can be seen in this passage, the writing is quite fragmented. Sentences stop and start in places one would not expect upon reading a grammatically correct piece of literature. It does, however, make sense as it is speech-like in nature.

We are provided with new information upon each new sentence. This is certainly a technique that produces emotional involvement on behalf of the reader. It is gripping in a way that constantly draws us in and makes us want to know what is next. The short sentences also provide way to reel in our focus, rather than be lost in a long jumble of words.

Morrison mentions that the reader supplies color and sound. In this way, the reader can truly make a story his or her own, with his or her own thoughts and opinions. Morrison does not specify the racial backgrounds of Twyla and Roberta, but still makes it a central topic to the story. Upon making conclusions about race, in response to some of the stereotypes in the story, one can even learn quite a bit about his or her own thinking process.

ABC News special on the psychology of stereotypes:

Morisson aims to engage the reader’s emotions, yet the tone of her writing is so “unemotional” with blunt, short, matter-of-fact phrasing. Her language is anything but flowery. She does not tell the reader how to feel but forces the reader to feel something. I think that is big part of what art does.

I would say that this style, is very “take it or leave it”, which in itself is extremely powerful.


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“Standing Female Nude” by Carol Ann Duffy

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Carol Ann Duffy is one of the most important contributors to contemporary British poetry. Duffy is known for granting voices to a wide range of women with varying tones. Oftentimes, her poems take on the form of a monologue and cover themes such as the representation of reality, the construction of self, gender issues, contemporary culture, varying forms of alienation, oppression and social inequality. While she is primarily known for her unique poetry, Duffy has also written numerous plays that have premiered in London. “Standing Female Nude” is conveyed from the perspective of an unfulfilled female nude model. “Standing Female Nude” was the title poem of Duffy’s first collection in 1985, which won the Scottish Arts Council Award.

In the first stanza, the model introduces herself as an objectified woman. The model narrates,”Belly nippe arse in the window light, he drains the colour from me” illuminating the artist’s transformation of her image to someone truly unrecognizable, which further emphasizes her objectification. The narrator continues, “I shall be represented analytically and hung in great museums” (334). In this line, Duffy blatantly highlights the model’s objectification to the reader. The model’s figure has been altered to please society. This idea can be supported by the final line of the poem, “It does not look like me” (335). According to the model, the artist procures some aspects of her figure; however, manipulates the parts he does not like to formulate a work of art. The model ascends into further detail of her objectification when she narrates, “He possesses me on canvas as he dips the brush repeatedly into the paint” (334-335). The speaker does not have any power or control over how she will be portrayed. Through his painting, the model believes that the artist took ownership of her body. The model continues, “When it’s finished he shows me proudly, lights a cigarette” (335). Although the artist and the model are both benefitting form each other to an extent, the artist carries himself in a manner that suggests his superiority to her. The model also states, “These artists take themselves too seriously,” further emphasizing his feelings of superiority over her (335). The model recognizes and detests the artist’s arrogance, concluding the monologue with “I say Twelve francs and get my shawl. It does not look like me” (335). The artist molded the model’s figure into an piece of art that would be aesthetically pleasing to his audience. However, at the conclusion of the session, the model feels out of control and objectified by a man that believes himself superior to her. The model states, “They call it Art,” utilizing irony to emphasize her disgust with the artist’s objectification of her identity (334). Throughout the monologue, the model questions the true meaning of art.

Throughout her poem, Duffy incorporates Marxist philosophies to further enhance the class struggle in France during this time. The insight behind Marxism was philosopher and communist Karl Marx. According to Peter Hayes, “In the Communist Manifesto, Marx presented a polarized view of classes under capitalism…the bourgeoisie owned the means of production, the proletariat did not; the bourgeoisie were employers, the proletariat were their employees. Not only were the bourgeoisie and proletariat diametrically opposed to each other, but other classes were subsumed within this clash of opposites” (100). The model begins by stating, “Six hours like this for a few francs” implying that she feels underpaid for her circumstances and does not enjoy her work (334). The model refers to herself as a “river whore,” implying that she has sold her body in multiple ways (334). Furthermore, states that both the artist and herself are using each other to an extent. The artist uses the model to build a reputation for himself by stating, “Both poor, we make our living how we can” (335). The artist and the model are in a sense collaborating to create a work of art for the Bourgeoisie. The narrator further perpetuates this idea with, “He is concerned with volume, space. I with the next meal,” further insinuating her low socioeconomic status and the necessity of her work for survival. (334) When the Artist states, “You’re getting thin, Madame, this is not good” (334). he emphasizes her low social status. Although the narrator does not enjoy her line of work, she must sell herself in order to survive. As stated above, both the artist and model are benefitting from each other’s work; however, the artist recognizes that he has more potential of success than the model. The artist hopes to climb the social latter and acquire a higher socioeconomic status in society.

At the conclusion of the third and beginning of the fourth stanza, Duffy wrote, “His name is Georges. They tell me he’s a genius” (334). In Angelica Michelis and Antony Rowland’s book ‘Choosing Tough Words’: The Poetry of Carol Ann Duffy, “Deryn Rees-Jones suggests that the culprit here is the french artist Georges Braque. Her interpretation can be supported with reference to the last stanza: when the model asks why he paints, the artist replies ‘Because I have to. There’s no choice’, which chimes with Braque’s statement that ‘I did not decide to become a painter, any more than I decided to breathe” (14). Although many critics have attempted to discover which Braque painting Duffy refers to, the most common assumption would be his Cubist painting “Large Nude” (1908). Because the Braque utilized a Cubist style to create his modernist painting, the conclusion of Duffy’s poem can be considered from a different angle. When the model states, “It does not look like me,” the model may have felt critical of her own body. Furthermore, the style the artist utilized to capture her figure would easily make her body appear unrecognizable. Today, the painting remains in a private collection.

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I found a collection of discussion questions to help you further solidify your understanding of Duffy’s poem:

http://www.morelearning.net/KS5/CarolAnnDuffy/Standing%20Female%20Nude%201.pdf

I also included a video from a 2013 Dove campaign pertaining to body image and how women view themselves as opposed to how others view them:

http://www.dailylife.com.au/health-and-fitness/dl-wellbeing/the-body-image-video-every-woman-should-watch-20130417-2hz3v.html

Works Cited:

Duffy, Carol Ann. Standing Female Nude. The Longman Anthology of Women’s Literature. Mary K. DeShazer. 1st Edition. New York: Addison-Wesley Educational Publishers Inc, 2001. 16-72. Print.

Hayes, Peter. “Marx’s Analysis of the French Class Structure.”Theory and Society 22.1 (1993): 99-123. Print.

Michelis, Angelica, and Antony Rowland. The Poetry of Carol Ann Duffy: ‘Choosing Tough Words’., 2003. Print.


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Where There is Witch, There is a Way

In early modern European history, the population was consumed with panic over witches being among them. This led to the witch hunt. The witch hunt was a mass hysteria that occurred between the 15th and 18th centuries. People who were involved with “witchcraft” were accused of worshiping the devil. During this time period people were often looking towards something or someone to place for the happenings that they did not understand.

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In Caryl Churchill’s play, Vinegar Tom she mimics an English village during the 17th century. The play labels witches as outspoken women as showing another example of people during this time needing someone to blame. The play uses a contradictory tone that mirrors other events in history that deal with oppression.

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Throughout Churchill’s play, Churchill uses songs or poems to develop a further analysis of the play while taking the audience out of the context of the story. Churchill did not give music notes to rhythms or any types of instruction when it came to these songs. Churchill instead only gave the lyrics. There is something special that was done here. Churchill is allowing each group who puts on the play, to have their own interpretation of how to sing, or stage directions that they choose feels right.

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Here is one interpretation of “Something to Burn” done by Quinnipiac University Theater for Community.

“What can we do, there’s nothing to do,

About sickness and hunger and dying.

What can we do, there’s nothing to do,

Nothing but cursing and crying.

Find something to burn.

Let it go up in smoke.

Burn your troubles away.

Sometimes it’s witches or what will you choose?

Sometimes its lunatics, shut them away.

It’s blacks and it’s women and often it’s Jews.

We’d all be quite happy if they’d go away.

Find something to burn.

Let it go up in smoke.

Burn your troubles away.” (p. 1252).

This song shows the most significance to contradictory ways of people blaming others. The line even connects to Antisemitism as well as anti-feminists   Churchill take a role new approach to showing the injustice throughout history, well still making connections to what may even be occurring in the world today with women. Churchill started a movement for women that landed her a spot among the great by challenging everything around her. Using Vinegar Tom, Churchill is able to discuss sexual politics as well as oppression of women while still connecting to historical events.


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I Put A Spell On You, Vinegar Tom

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Salem witch trails were probably the most confusing time and the most uneducated. People were going back and forth accusing each other for being witches. Even some animals got accused of being witches. It caught on like wild fire for people to blame people to be witches if that person bothered them.All people had to do was point fingers and say a lie how they changed water into blood or something like this. In Churchill’s play, Vinegar Tom she made it a point to show how easily woman were accused of being witches but she also brought up different points to focus on the social changes that was going on during the time she was writing this which was in 1976.

 Something To Burn      

What can we do, there’s nothing to do,

about sickness and hunger and dying.

What can we do, there’s nothing to do,

nothing but cursing and crying.

   Find something to burn.

   Let it go up in smoke.

   Burn your troubles away.

Sometimes it’s witches, or what will you choose?

Sometimes it’s lunatics, shut the away.

It’s black and it’s women and often it’s Jews.

We’d all be quite happy if they’d go away.

    Find something to burn

     Let it go up in smoke.

     Burn your trouble away.

The song pretty much describes how anyone would just play everyone to burn something. They would not care who it was, they would just burn it. If something went wrong. When someone’s crops would die, they would assume that a curse was put on them. If someone got sick, a witch must have hexed them. People weren’t not educated enough to know that sickness and losing crops were just part of life. They thought if they burned something that problems would all go away. But they kept coming back so people kept thinking that a witch just cursed the whole town. It was almost heart breaking that girls and even men would plead that they weren’t twitches but people accused them.

salem-witches

Also one of the other songs that stood out was Evil Woman.

Evil women.

Is that what you want?

Is That what you want to see?

In your movie dream

Do they scream and scream?

That song stood out because it’s saying that the world wants to see evil woman and nothing else. They do not want to see the good woman, they want to watch a woman go up in flames, not caring if she was innocent or not. It’s rather sad to think about. I think especially for the part, on your movie screen is that they are not focusing that these woman were real. The shock factor that they were actually killing innocent people was no where to be found. It was like they were living life like a movie so it took away reality.

A song that I felt was appropriate for this play was the song I Put A Spell On You.


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The Striking World of the Seventeenth-Century Witchcraft

Caryl Churchill

Caryl Churchill in 1972

A socialist-feminist playwright, the author of more than forty plays states in a 1988 interview with Linda Fitzsimmons,

“Women are traditionally expected not to initiate action, and plays are action, in a way that words are not. So perhaps that’s one reason why comparatively few women have written plays” (1237).  

Churchill reaches audiences across the political spectrum and ordinary playgoers because of her realistic and sometimes satiric themes. In 1976 she wrote Vinegar Tom to examine how a “community’s misogyny caused its members to label outspoken women as troublemakers, and how these women’s social marginalization led them to be condemned and executed as witches” (1238). As I read the play many topics seemed to interest me and spark my attention. Topics such as the treatment of women, beliefs of witches and sexual and economic tensions which moved the women to turn to one another. The various songs throughout the play were intriguing and allowed the reader to understand the voice of women along with their struggles and frusterations towards womanhood, life tasks and marriage. Women were often accused of being witches because they could reproduce, leaving men to believe they had a lot of power instead of understanding the reality of pregnancy and birth.

Who are Witches?

Witches were believed to be people with an ability to harm by mystical means, who were often motivated by hatred or malice and who might have been charged with a variety of offenses. Within the play, various women are accused of black magic; however, the audience knows that their only crime is having courageous social norms. “Witches could be blamed for a variety of illnesses, such as rheumatism, arthritis, and stroke. No specific illness or disease was always blamed on witchcraft, although strange, unidentifiable and inexplicable diseases were particularly likely to be attributed to witches. Strokes and epilepsy, and unusual illnesses in animals, for example” (Sanders 1). There was no form of knowledge such as bad bacteria or other infections, people just assumed that the witches were at fault for their cows and animals randomly dying. Margery says to Jack, “What you think of those calves then? Nothing to be done is there? What can we do? Nothing. Nothing to be done. Can’t do nothing” (1250).

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Witches and ‘Familiars’

Familiars are another form of how a witch can carry out their actions and powers. These usually took an animal form and were given names that showed the personal nature of the relationship between the witch and familiar. Within Vinegar Tom, the ‘familiars’ were considered the tom cat and the rat. Margery states in anger towards Mother Noakes, “And while we were talking we thought of her great cat that’s always in my dairy, stinking it up and stealing cream. That’s her familiar sent her by Satan” (1254). Jack replies by mentioning what the rat is responsible for as well, “I’ve seen a rat run out of her yard into ours and I went for it with a pitchfork and the spikes were turned aside and nearly went in my own foot by her foul magic. And that rat’s another of her imps” (1254). The tom cat and rat were seen as a nuisance and were supposably sent by the witch to cause harm and disruptiveness to their every day lives.

The “Witches Mark”

The witch fed her familiar on her blood through some place on her body which then left what is known as the “witches mark.”  Others who were looking for evidence looked for this to show proof. If a mark was absent, it was known that a witch might have removed it, or it might just come and go. As we read Vinegar Tom, Churchill mentioned several times about interrogators speculating for a “mark” to declare who the witch is. Within the text, Packer searches for the “spot” on Alice. “Have I the spot though? Which is the spot? There. There. There. No, I haven’t the spot. Oh. It’s tiring work. Set this one aside. Maybe there’s others will speak against her and let us know more clearly what she is” (1260).

Overall, witchcraft within Vinegar Tom plays an important role on the plot and is an interesting topic to look into because people believed in witches and trickery for many many years. The men in the play automatically assume women have a stronger power than them and are determined to stop such powerful actions provided by the witches.

To watch a clip from a performance of Vinegar Tom click here and follow along with the lyrics that help explain how all women were portrayed as being a witch:

If You Float
If you float you’re a witch.
If you scream you’re a witch
If you sink, then you’re dead anyway.
If you cure you’re a witch
Or impure you’re a witch
Whatever you do, you must pay.
Fingers are pointed, a knock at the door,
You may be a mother, a child or a whore.
If you complain you’re a witch
Or you’re lame you’re a witch
Any marks or deviations count for more.
Got big tits you’re a witch
Fall to bits you’re a witch
He likes them young, concupiscent and poor.
Finers are pointed, a knock at the door,
They’re coming to get you, do you know what for?
So don’t drop a stitch
My poor little bitch
If you’re making a spell
Do it well
Deny it you’re bad
Admit it you’re mad
Say nothing at all

They’ll damn you to hell.                                                                                              


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Goin’ on a witch hunt

Starting in the fifteenth century and ending in the eighteenth, Europeans had a huge concern with the allegations of witchcraft and thought it was a threat to humanity. Society and governments ordered the need for further hunting for suspicious witches. These intense and vicious hunts varied from place to place as did the target of who was to be hunted. Women happened to be a specific targeted group who were accused, tortured, and massacred. Tens of thousands of people were killed off because of suspicions of being a witch, three-quarters of whom were women.

 

These witch hunts can be described as a case of “genderized mass murder.” According to Katz, (p. 503)”the overall evidence makes plain that the growth — the panic — in the witch craze was inseparable from the stigmatization of women. … Historically, the most salient manifestation of the unreserved belief in female power and female evil is evidenced in the tight, recurrent, by-now nearly instinctive association of women and witchcraft. Though there were male witches, when the witch craze accelerated and became a mass phenomenon after 1500 its main targets, its main victims, were female witches. Indeed, one strongly suspects that the development of witch-hunting into a mass hysteria only became possible when directed primarily at women.”

 

 

 

Above is a humorous clip from “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.” This clip is meant to show the false allegations of such witch hunts and the extremely unrealistic reasoning behind accusing one of being a witch.

 

While taking a look at Caryl Churchill’s “Vinegar Tom,” we can say that this is a play about witches with no actual witches in it. The songs that Churchill includes in this piece takes the reader out of the story and into the minds of the accused. This story circulates around a single mother who becomes to overall scapegoat of the play because of social and moral ills of her small town. A jealous neighbor falsely accuses her of being a witch. Once the village gets word of this, a professional witch hunter comes to town and in the end the women are hung.

Certain natural bodily actions that take place in a women’s body were said to be signs of witchcraft. Looking at specific lines from Churchill’s song “Nobody Sings,”

“Do you want your skin to wrinkle

And your cunt get sore and dry?

And the say it’s just your hormones

If you cry and cry and cry.

Oh nobody sings about it,

but it happens all the time.”

(Churchill,1243-1244)

These signs of maturing in a woman were usually an embarrassing time and women tended to try and hide these things from society. Without any knowledge of how the woman’s body works, no one would know that this was a natural process and it was in fact a very false allegation of being a witch.

Want to be a witch for a few minutes? How about just being accused of one. Click here to join an actual virtual witch hunt and find out what happens to you! Don’t make the wrong choice, or it could be your life.

 


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Filling in the Blanks

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Recitatif is a term derived from the musical term recitative.  The word describes a piece of dramatic music, such as opera, where there are spoken parts within the music.  It also can be traced back to its Latin root word, recitare, which can be defined as reciting from memory.  Recitatif also happens to be the title of a literary work by Toni Morrison and not by coincidence.  The title of this short story is important to understanding the text because Morrison leaves readers to fill in their our thoughts between the broken parts of the character’s memories.  The readers’ personal thoughts and opinions influence how they read the story.

This story story is set up in different “acts” which are recollections of one of the main character’s memory.  It begins with two young girls, Twyla and Roberta, who are placed in an orphanage, not because they are orphans, but because their mothers are unfit for one reason or another.  Many times throughout the story the reader’s are encouraged to fill in the blank about the different aspects of the characters.  This can be seen throughout the entire story as reader’s are left guessing about the race of the girls.

“And Mary, that’s my mother, she was right. Every now and then she would stop dancing long enough to tell me something important and one of the things she said was that they never washed their hair and they smelled funny.  Roberta sure did. Smell funny, I mean. So when the Big Bozo (nobody ever called her Mrs. Itkin, just like nobody ever said St. Bonaventure)- when she said, “Twyla this Roberta. Roberta this is Twyla. Make each other welcome.” I said, “My mother won’t like you putting me in here.”” (p. 1225)

Even though this passage comes from the first scene of the story, it is extremely important.  It is the first instance where race comes in and the first hint of uncertainty for the reader.  We do not know who is white and who is black at this time.  Based on stereotypes, especially stereotypes between races at this time in history (which is presumably the 1950’s or 60’s), it is not an unlikely assumption that Twyla is white while Roberta is black.   We know that it is Twyla making these assumptions about Roberta ( ie. she is smelly and does not wash her hair) based on things her mother has told her.  This seems to be a white person’s view on black people, but once again it is not possible for the roles to be reversed.  It is just as possible that a black person would feel that way about a white person, it is all about the way the reader interrupts the text.

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The reader is once again challenged towards the end of this first act when Twyla and Roberta’s mothers come to visit them.  Roberta’s mother is portrayed as a stuck up, holy roller.  She refused to shake the hand of Twyla’s mother, who is dressed rather gaudy and trashy for lack of a better term.  In this scene, it can be thought that Twyla’s mother is a “trashy,”  low-class black women, while Roberta’s mother was a higher class, religious white women.  On the other hand, there is a stereotype of large black women, who are very religious and not afraid to publicize that, so the opposite opinion is also not far from the truth.

This back and forth process of thought continues throughout the whole story.  We meet the girls at several points in their lives from late teens to adulthood. In each situation your judgement of the characters changes.  Especially, when the two friends discuss Maggie, a older woman who used to work at St. Bonnies when they lived there.  As Twyla remembers the incident with Maggie, she recalls that the older, “bad” girls in the orphanage had beat Maggie one day after she had fallen.  Maggie was deaf and could not speak.  In Roberta’s recollection of the event, the girls had pushed Maggie and then Twyla and Maggie had joined in as they kicked her.  The interesting part was that Roberta remembered Maggie as being black, while Twyla remembered Maggie as a white woman.

“”Listen to me. I really did think she was black. I didn’t make that up. I really thought so. But now I can’t be sure. I just remember her as old, so old. And because she couldn’t talk-well, you know, I thought she was crazy.  She’d been brought up in an institution like my mother was and like I thought I would be too.  And you were right. We didn’t kick her.  It was the gar girls.  Only them. But, well, I wanted to.  I really wanted them to hurt her.  I said we did it, too. You and me, but that’s not true.”” (p. 1237)

This passage comes from the last act of the story.  It is the confession from Roberta to Twyla about her memory with Maggie.  This passage can quite possibly be our biggest clue as to the races of the girls.  Maggie represented a lot for both Twyla and Roberta.  For the girls Maggie was a representation of themselves.  At times they had been beaten down by life and were left without a voice.  So if this symbol is true and they saw themselves in Maggie, it would be interesting that they would remember Maggie as being the same race as they were.  Maggie’s race would be a minor detail in the whole scheme of what happened.

This is the only short story written by Toni Morrison, but her other works carry similar messages about racism and other societal problems.  Recitatif  largely expresses Morrison’s opinions and by reading this piece she makes her reader’s not only aware of current events, but also makes them aware of themselves.


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Recitatif

Toni Morrison 

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In Morrison’s story Recitatif she shows the lives of two young girls Twyla and Roberta who are in St. Bonny’s. One of the girls is black and one  is white. Morrison never reveals which girl is which race she leaves that for the reader to interpret.

This is part of their last encounter with each other.

 “It’s about St. Bonny’s and Maggie.”

 “Oh, please.”

 “Listen to me. I really did think she was black. I didn’t make that up. I

really thought so. But now I can’t be sure. I just remember her as old, so

old. And because she couldn’t talk- well, you know, I thought she was

crazy. She’d been brought up in an institution like my mother was and like I

thought I would be too. And you were right. We didn’t kick her. It was the

gar girls. Only them. But, well, I wanted to. I really wanted them to hurt her.

I said we did it, too. You and me, but that’s not true. And I don’t want you to

carry that around. It was just that I wanted to do it so bad that day-wanting

to is doing it“(1236-1237).

During this encounter the realization of it not mattering which girl is which race. They both wanted to join in with the tormenting of Maggie. This, makes the race of the characters no longer matter. They are two girls who met at the wrong time in history. They both had their own perspectives on things.  Roberta believed that Maggie was black while Twyla remembers her not being black. Both perspectives in the story can be of  a black or white person.

Us as readers go through these encounters with these two women and with our own racial stereotypes trying to figure out which race belongs to which character. In the end as readers we find out that it does not matter which race belongs to who. We realize that they were just children both  who met at an orphanage and became friends. There meeting and being friends was out of chance.When they meet its a time where black and white children are not and could not be friends. In the second encounter again in a time where their friendship would of been looked down upon.  The fact that Roberta due to issues of race and wealth snubbed Twyla during their first encounter in the diner hurt Twyla. She seemed to have no understanding of why they could not be friends like they once were.

Their friendship would not be able to work out even with a someone like Twyla who doesn’t see the difference that race and class. To her it truly did not matter, but in the end society made it matter. In this last encounter when it no longer mattered they finally were able to sit down and talk.  Admit that due to the previous times they couldn’t be friends. Also, due to those times they both wanted to torment Maggie. Be prejudice against people who were different. Now they could talk about the one thing that had always reunited them Maggie and their mothers.

In today’s world one would think we may not be as prejudice about some things, but we still are very prejudice.  We have our first black president and still there are those who are prejudice.  We are in a time where the realization of everyone is equal should kick in, but sadly there are still people out there that can not get past the color of someones skin.

An example of people in today’s world who have gotten past this are Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt. They have adopted children from all over the world. When their kids grow up they are not going to have the same encounters Roberta and Twyla had. They are going to see each other as family and accept one another the way they are. Not as children of different races and backgrounds.

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Käthe Kollwitz

In 1968, Muriel Rukeyser created a poem based on the life of the German artist Käthe Kollwitz.

Picture of Rukeyser found on this site.

Picture of Rukeyser found on this site.

Within her poem, Rukeyser makes multiple references to Kollwitz’s works. We reviewed Woman With Dead Child in class, but there are quite a few other works and aspects of Kollwitz referenced.
In section II of the poem, Rukeyser writes in the voice of Kollwitz and explains her subject matter:

A woman pouring her opposites.
“After all there are happy things in life too.
Why do you show only the dark side?”
“I could not answer this. But I know–
in the beginning my impulse to know
the working life
had little to do with
pity or sympathy.
I simply felt
that the life of the workers was beautiful.” (1208-09)

Kollwitz tended to portray the lives of everyday people in her works, such as in March of the Weavers (1897) and Workers Going Home (1897).

Sourced from here.

March of the Weavers, sourced from here.

Workers Going Home sourced from here.

Workers Going Home, sourced from here.

Each of these works shows just what the poem says: the life of workers.

 

On page 1210, Rukeyser writes:

Looking at
all of them
death, the children
patients in wating-rooms
famine
the street
the corpse, with the baby
floating, on the dark river

Woman with Dead Child comes to mind after reading this, but there are other works of Kollwitz’s that are related to this. Some examples are Poverty (1893-94) and Unemployment (1909).

Poverty, sourced from here.

Poverty, sourced from here.

Unemployment, sourced from here.

Unemployment, sourced from here.

Both of these works show the emotional toll that famine and other related stresses (which is mentioned in the poem) have on a person.

 

After reading selections of Rukeyser’s poems and examining several of Kollwitz’s works, a similarity can be gathered between the two. Each based their respective expressions of art on more everyday-type people than anything else. While some authors we have read in class wrote sections of the Bible from female perspectives and some created short stories from their minds, Kollwitz and Rukeyser created based on actual people.


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The Blame Game

In Caryl Churchill‘s play, ” Vinegar Tom” , we meet several people in a town that believe in witches and witchcraft. Throughout the play we follow meetings of people and conversations that lead to this belief and/or desire to call someone a witch.

“MARGERY: I’ve no yeast.

JOAN: But you don’t give and they say what a mean bitter woman and curse you.

MARGERY: There’s nobody curses me. Now get out of my dairy. Dirty old woman you are, smelling of drink, come in here day after day begging, and stealing, too, I shouldn’t wonder…

JOAN: You shouldn’t say that.

MARGERY: … and your great ugly cat in here stealing the cream. Get out of my dairy.

JOAN: You’ll be sorry you spoke to me like that. I’ve always been your friend, Margery, but now you’ll find I’m not.

MARGERY: I’ve work to do. Now get out. I’m making my butter,

JOAN: Damn your butter to hell.

MARGERY: Will you get out?

JOAN: Devil take you and your your man and your fields and your cows and your butter and your yeast and your beer and your bread and your cider and your cold face…” (1245).

In this conversation the reader can see the harmlessness in Joan’s curse. Most likely the curse is sprouted from her anger developed due to her friend’s stinginess. But in this town where something has to be blamed when things go wrong, these words become deadly when mishaps do occur.

” MARGERY: The calves are shaking and they’ve got a terrible stench, so you can’t go near them and their bellies are swollen up. (JACK goes off) There’s no good running. There’s nothing you can do for them. They’ll die like the red cow. You don’t love me. Damn this stinking life to hell. Calves stinking and shaking there. No good you going to see, Jack. Better stand and curse. Everything dying on us. Aah. What’s that? Who’s there? Get out, you beast, get out. (She throws her shoe.) Jack, Jack.” (1250).

“MARGERY: The devil can’t bear to see us so good.

JACK: You know who it is?

MARGERY: Who?

JACK: The witch. Who it is.

MARGERY: Who?

JACK: You know who.

MARGERY: She cursed the butter to hell.

JACK: She cursed me when I got the bowl.

MARGERY: She said I’d be sorry I’d spoken to her.

JACK: She wished me trouble at home.

MARGERY: Devil take your man and your cows, she said that, and your butter. She cursed the calves see and she made them shake. She struck me on the head and in the stomach.” (1251).

Churchill did an amazing job at setting up each moment in the story so that even the readers would fall into the hysteria. Using certain moments as harmless conversation and then turning them around as criteria for being a witch was a ploy that sucked the reader right into the mentality of the towns people.

An important lesson that could be gained from this play, is one that most people know. Don’t blame others for your misfortune. It is easy to point fingers at what we don’t understand or what when we can’t label something as familiar to us. That seems to be the human way. But shunning someone or something is not the human thing to do.  

http://youtu.be/tKF51Twk3lM