Abstracting Identity

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Pablo Picasso’s “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon” (1907) / The Museum of Modern Art

A. K. Ramanujan’s poem “Elements of Composition” present’s the speaker’s identity in a way that coincides with the traditional Indian philosophy of one’s life fluidly coinciding with all that occurs around him. The poem is formatted as a long, rambling list full of snippets of experiences, people, things, and places that the speaker identifies as that which himself and all others are composed of. How the poem presents its subject matter’s identity as expansive, inclusive, and transcendant of the individual contrasts in an interesting way with the portrayal of the five prostitutes in Pablo Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon. In Picasso’s painting, five prostitutes are shown lounging in a brothel, but, rather than having realistic proportions, their limbs, faces, and midriffs are sharp and polygonal. While these women are not out of place in the painting given the abstract nature of the painting’s background and surrounding elements, it uses its abstraction and simplification of the women to separate them from reality. Where the contrast with Ramanujan’s poem lies is in the fact that Picasso’s painting presents the women’s identities by condensing the most prominent elements of their physical forms while “Elements of Composition” presents its speaker’s identity by emphasizing and intertwining it with the mundane. They both abstract and explore human identity, but wind up at opposite ends of the spectrum.

Ramanujan, A. K.. “Elements of Composition.” The Norton Anthology of English Literature: The Twentieth and Twenty-First Centuries. 10th ed. Stephen Greenblatt, General Editor. W. W. Norton, 2018. pp.936-938.

Independent Pursuits

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Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s “Body’s Beauty” (1864-73) / Wilmington Society of Fine Arts, Delaware

Though much more of a legend than a prominent biblical figure, in the garden of Eden, Lilith is said to have been Adam’s first wife who chose to leave him for the sake of her own independence. In the painting “Body’s Beauty”, artist and author Dante Gabriel Rossetti paints a portrait of Lilith gazing into a hand mirror as she combs her golden hair. Her striking beauty and obvious vanity in tandem with the poppies and roses framing her figure make her appear alluring and dangerous. Her egotistical desire for independence is reinforced by the fact that she is looking into a mirror at herself rather than meeting the gaze of the viewer. Though this painting masterfully captures Lilith’s character through Dante’s posing and presentation of the beguiling woman, the artwork’s meaning only increases when considered in the context of one of Dante’s sister’s poems. Christina Rossetti, Dante’s younger sister, wrote many flavorful poems including one titled “No, Thank You, John”. “No, Thank You, John” is a poem written from the perspective of a woman who is pleading with a man named John to stop romantically pursuing her. Further details about their relationship are revealed through lines such as, “I never said I loved you, John: / Why will you teaze me day by day,” and “Why will you haunt me with a face / As wan as shows an hour-old ghost?” (lines 3-8). Though the narrator explicitly tells John that she doesn’t like him, John continues to pester her about it each day and attempts to guilt her into saying yes by showing her how sad he is without her. Though she has rejected him, his desire to have her has overridden all common decency he once had to the point that he views her dismissals and rebuttals as attractive qualities in and of themselves. Perhaps this is why Lilith appears to be so beautiful in Dante’s painting, because the viewer sees Lilith’s selfish desires and, instead of giving up on pursuing her because of them, instead fetishizes them and uses her lack of interest as an excuse to disregard her wishes and chase after her.  Perhaps these two pieces of media showcase different sides of the same story of an independent woman being pursued by a desperate man, or perhaps their makers’ familial ties are their only common ground.

Work Cited

Rossetti, Christina, “No, Thank You, John.” The Norton Anthology of English Literature: The Victorian Age. 10th ed. Stephen Greenblatt, General Editor. W. W. Norton, 2017. p. 554.

The Mutable Prometheus

 

In 1818, Mary Shelley anonymously published the now renowned science-fiction novel Frankenstein. Telling the story of Victor Frankenstein, a young scholar who brings to life a monster, the novel uses Victor’s life story to foster timeless commentary on human nature and experience. Mary Shelley’s husband Percy Bysshe Shelley was also an esteemed author of the Romantic Era. Just as the two shared common interests, values, and hobbies, so too did their literary works converge. For example, in the tenth chapter of Frankenstein, the last two stanzas of Percy’s poem “Mutability”, a lyrical poem published two years prior that claims mankind is constantly changing, intersect Victor’s internal monologue to drive home the assertion that everyone can, will, and does change.

In the events leading up to chapter ten, Victor created and abandoned his monster, succumbed to sickness, and, once nursed back to health by his childhood friend Henry Clerval, rushed back home at the news of his brother William’s death. Upon his return, Justine Moritz, a kind-hearted maid who served the Frankenstein family, was convicted of William’s murder and sentenced to death. Though she confessed that she was guilty, she told Victor that she had lied and was innocent. Believing that Justine wasn’t the true murderer, Victor couldn’t shake the thought that it was his monster who killed William, leaving Victor with his brother’s blood on his hands.

As chapter ten starts, Victor sets off to traverse the Valley of Chamounix, where his senses indulge in the vista’s sublimity. After gazing at his surroundings which “afforded [him] the greatest consolation that [he] was capable of receiving,” Victor sleeps peacefully until morning (Shelley 86). When morning arrives, Victor is shocked to find that the landscape’s beauty and solace had been replaced with melancholy and obstruction. To try and restore some of the scenery’s majesty, he decides to scale the summit of Montanvert. However, there he only finds pouring rain, broken trees, and dangerous stones one vibration away from an avalanche. He regains some of his awe after marching a league across a glacier and staring back at Montanvert with Mont Blanc towering behind it. Just as his mood changed that morning, Victor’s adoration is interrupted by a large figure speedily approaching him: the loathed monster he created. While the monster only pleads with Victor to hear his story and accept him as a creation, Victor regards him with hatred and disgust. The monster, having been rejected by humanity and his creator alike says, “I was benevolent and good; misery made me a fiend”(Shelley 89). As Victor finally agrees to hear his monster’s story, chapter ten ends.  

Before Victor arrives at the top of Montanvert, in his contemplations about how quickly one’s perceptions can change, Victor recalls the last two stanzas of “Mutability”. “Mutability”, a poem about mankind’s fluctuation between different feelings, actions, and outlooks, coincides perfectly with the going-ons of chapter ten. The first two lines, “We rest; a dream has power to poison sleep. We rise; one wandering thought pollutes the day,” parallels Victor’s change in mood after waking up to rain and fog that obscures the beautiful sights he saw the day before (Shelley 86). The poems themes in general as well as the last line, “Nought may endure but mutability,” reinforce the idea that Frankenstein’s characters are always changing (Shelley 86). For example, not only is Victor’s calm reverence of the mountainous scenery before him turned into boundless anger by the appearance of the monster, but the monster also explicitly states that he’s undergone a massive change in character from being well intentioned to committing evil deeds out of desperation and spite. In fact, the monster’s very conception sparked a change within Victor that effortlessly transformed his eager passion to create and understand into utter horror and disgust. In addition to Frankenstein and his monster, changes can also be seen in minor characters such as Justine Moritz, who plead guilty although she claimed to be innocent.

Though the poem’s use in Frankenstein reinforces the idea that characters constantly change in tandem with or in response to their surroundings, such an idea can also apply to mankind as a whole. Outside of Frankenstein, all well-written characters and real human beings change and grow as they gain more experience and insight. How they will grow and what they will do is impossible to determine, but it’s guaranteed that each day will be different from the last.

Work Cited

Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein. Introduction and Notes by Karen Karbiener. Barnes and Noble, 2003.

Ruined

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Interior of Tintern Abbey by J.M.W. Turner in 1794

With desaturated blues, greens, and browns, J.M.W. Turner’s watercolor painting Interior of Tintern Abbey presents its namesake, the ruins of a monastery covered in foliage, with somber melancholy. Though once a proud symbol of religion, the abbey has been lost to time and nature, which threatens to strangle the building with vines until the stones crumble to dust and fade away. The abbey’s tall arches tower over small, human figures at the base of the construct, conveying to the viewer that the symbols of religion and nature are beyond humanity’s grasp, but still within sight. In contrast, the poem The Garden of Love by William Blake renders an image of nature being overtaken and obstructed by religion. In the poem, the speaker revisits a lush garden he once used to frequently play in. To his surprise, a chapel had been built and many of the garden’s flowers were replaced with tombstones. There were many priests walking the grounds who began “binding with briars my [the speaker’s] joys & desires” (141). Rather than show how nature can ruin the sanctity of a religious construction, this poem shows how religion can ruin the sanctity of nature. As nature imposes its will on Tintern Abbey, religion imposes its will onto The Garden of Love, destroying its beauty and importance to the speaker. Despite the contradictory nature of these pieces of media, in both, humans are shown as spectators to the seemingly cyclical battle that rages between these two forces (though it is interesting to consider if the priests mentioned in The Garden of Love characterize religion as something created by humans themselves or something that perpetuates itself through the use of humans). Either way, both pieces retain unique identities that serve to enhance and expand each other when compared or contrasted.

Work Cited

Blake, William. The Garden of Love. The Norton Anthology of British Literature: The Romantic Period. 10th ed. Stephen Greenblatt, General Editor. W. W. Norton, 2018. p.141

The Media’s Portrayal of 9/11

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This was authored by Jaycey Deal, Jasmine Parker, Zachary Ware, and yours truly.

The infamous terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 has left a scar in American history. It’s a topic that is emotionally, spiritually, and politically sensitive to many people. One can see this come to fruition in the media’s representation of these events. The news, even to this day, continues to analyze and discuss the events of September 11, 2001. Through photography and the portrayal of events and people, the media paints a picture of what happened on that devastating day that can reflect, hide, or alter the public’s viewpoint.

In regards to the media of 9/11, one pioneer is Richard Drew. With his work and experience, Drew has shown that photography is very important, even in the most difficult of times. Drew is known for his bravery to take photos that others would not want to. He was there when President Kennedy was assassinated. He was also the one to take the photo of the man who decided to jump from the North Tower. Junod did a great job of describing and analyzing the photo. He mentions the stance the falling man takes, the way his clothes are reacting with the wind, how fast he is going, and how calm he appears compared to the others who have chosen to jump. Drew also stated that, In the actual moment history is made, it is usually made in terror and confusion, and so it is up to people like him-paid witnesses- to have the presence of mind to “attend to its manufacture”. In saying this, the author shows that, though it’s most definitely difficult in the moment, documentation of these horrific historical events is very important. Looking back on our history is what keeps it alive; this is how we better the traditions and happiness we have, and how we make it known that we do not want the terrible things that have happened in America. Photography is not only a great way to do this, but it’s also a great way to portray people. The portrayal of people in 9/11 media is important because of how it impacts those who consume it. When media reflects a certain people group in a negative light, that people group is likely to be seen negatively by the general public. In the same vain, when media reflects a certain people group in a positive light, they are likely to be seen positively by the general public. Additionally, media’s impression on public opinion affects the formation of media to come and so on. It’s important to our research that we consider how such media portrays different individuals and their cultures so we can be more aware of how our understandings or misunderstandings of others are accrued and developed and if they should be altered or amended in any ways. A common example is the relationship between non-Muslims and Muslims. Since 9/11, Muslims felt as if they had to become defensive about their identity, while non-Muslims felt strong in their American pride and sympathy for the victims and the victims’ families.   

While 9/11 was a horrific, infamous attack on American soil that can be hard to stomach, the media must continue to do its job. They have portrayed people and events of 9/11 through multiple lenses, like photography. It’s important to understand how a critical historical event in recent years is portrayed by the media; in doing this, we can better understand the event, and the many factors that construct the public’s perception.

 

Works Cited

Alsultany, Evelyn. “Arabs and Muslims in the Media After 9/11: Representational

Strategies for a “Postrace” Era.” American Quarterly, vol. 65, no. 1, 2013, pp.

161-169,261. ProQuest,

http://nclive.org/cgi-bin/nclsm?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/1409095975?acc

ountid=9935.

“Arabs and Muslims in the Media After 9/11: Representational Strategies for a “Postrace” Era” presents Evelyn Alsultany’s findings and opinions concerning the representation of Arabs and Muslims in media following 9/11. Alsultany finds that, though Arab and Muslim characters are often presented as likeable, sympathetic, and well-meaning individuals by the majority of televised productions, such portrayals are often used to merely cover up or excuse other instances of harmful representation of Arabs and Muslims as terrorists. In addition to this, real life hate crimes against Arabs and Muslims had increased. This would be beneficial to our research because it shows that not only can portrayals of information in the media not completely align with how situations actually are in the real world, but also because it give examples of how seemingly positive pieces of media can have negative effects and intentions.

Ewart, Jacqui, and Halim Rane. “Talking about 9/11: The Influence of Media Images on Australian Muslims’ and Non-Muslims’ Recollections of 9/11.” Australian Journal of Communication, vol. 40, no. 1, 2013, pp. 137-151. ProQuest, http://nclive.org/cgi-bin/nclsm?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/1446431659?accountid=9935.

In Jacqui Ewart and Halim Rane’s research journal “Talking about 9/11: The Influence of Media Images on Australian Muslims’ and Non-Muslims’ Recollections of 9/11”, researchers record and conduct conversations with Muslim and non-Muslim groups about how the media’s portrayal of 9/11 impacts their identity and views of others. Overall, it seems that 9/11 media serves as something that elicits intense emotional responses from people in all groups and leaves people with various questions and concerns. Many Muslims are left questioning the values and fundamentals of their culture while non-Muslims were recorded as exploring and educating themselves about Islam or developing some sort of distaste for Islam in general. Either way, both groups are forced to consider the differences between Muslims and Australians and what all that means for the society they live in. This journal provides lots of insight into how media depicting 9/11 is able to impact how people view themselves, others, and society as a whole and, even though it is likely that many of the same people were exposed to the same kinds of media, it seems that they all had varying viewpoints, opinions, and contributions to the discussions.

Gregoriou, Christiana, and Pinelopi Troullinou. “SCANNING BODIES, STRIPPING

RIGHTS?” The World Today, vol. 67, no. 8, Aug, 2011, pp. 10-12. ProQuest,

http://nclive.org/cgi-bin/nclsm?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/919397052?acco

untid=9935.

This extract from Christiana Gregoriou and Pinelopi Troullinou’s article “Scanning Bodies: Stripping Rights?” provides information regarding new scanning systems that were implemented into airport security. Because these scanners produce nearly nude images of those randomly selected to get scanned and because of all of the other questionable practices that those working for the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) perform, many people are critical of their actions and suspect that their methods are faulty and intentions may be racist. While providing an interesting look at what TSA’s practices have evolved into, this article also provides interesting commentary on the nature of media and how the perpetuation of tragic stories can cause more harm than good, leading people to make bad decisions out of fear or desperation. Because of these interesting viewpoints regarding media reports of tragedies like 9/11 and how 9/11 has impacted TSA, this article would serve as a very apt source for our research.

Junod, Tom. “The Falling Man.” Esquire. Sept. 2003,

www.esquire.com/news-politics/a48031/the-falling-,am-tom-junod, Accessed Sept. 2018.

“The Falling Man” is not only a piece of media that directly covers the circumstances of 9/11, but it also showcases the attitudes of people involved in the event a while after it had occurred. In this article, Tom Junod affixes his attention onto a photograph of a man falling between the World Trade Center. Throughout the article, Tom Junod attempts to identify who the falling man is, speaking on many different topics along the way. What makes this article valuable to our research is how it depicts the ways in which 9/11 media affects him personally and the information he relays about the creation of 9/11 media, considering its origin and ethicality.

KROES, ROB, MILES ORVELL, and ALAN NADEL. “The Ascent of the Falling Man:

Establishing a Picture’s Iconicity.” Journal of American Studies, vol. 45, no. 4, 2011, pp.

  1. 20. ProQuest,

http://nclive.org/cgi-bin/nclsm?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/903963872?acco

untid=9935, doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S0021875811000995.

In Rob Koes’ study “The Ascent of the Falling Man: Establishing a Picture’s Iconicity”, Koes presents a very insightful take on the prevalence of different forms of media and the importance and efficacy of photography. Throughout his study, Koes focuses mostly on the famous image of the falling man, providing historical context for both its conception and explosion of popularity. This study is an important resource for media-related information because it not only discusses the science behind how different forms of media affect their audience but also because it explains how the public becomes exposed and invested in certain pieces of media as well as what types of media they wish to see.

Lasorsa, Dominic. “News Media Perpetuate Few Rumors about 9/11 Crisis.”Newspaper Research Journal, vol. 24, no. 1, 2003, pp. 10-21. ProQuest, http://nclive.org/cgi-bin/nclsm?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/200711539?accountid=9935.

Dominic Lasorsa’s research journal “News Media Perpetuate Few Rumors about 9/11 Crisis” is an important piece of research which takes a look at various news sources’ ability to report truthful stories about 9/11 shortly after the terrorist attacks took place. Not only does this journal give insight into how news media views crises and pseudo-crises, but it also showcases why and how incorrect stories can end up being reported. Often times it appears as though such false news sources are spread because of how desperate the public is to find a source of hope in hard times and, though false, these stories usually originate from overly-exaggerated true stories or mere misunderstandings of situations. Overall, according to this journal, it seems that the majority of media covering 9/11 presents the events with reliable accuracy. Such results were surprising to researchers, because the general consensus of the time was that news sources were inauthentic and fabricated merely for controversy or attention. From this journal, one can conclude that the media’s portrayal of the events of 9/11 were not only mostly accurate and well-researched, but also greatly dependent on the quality and reliability of the sources used to back them up.

Mauro, Aaron. “THE LANGUISHING OF THE FALLING MAN: DON DELILLO AND

JONATHAN SAFRAN FOER’S PHOTOGRAPHIC HISTORY OF 9/11.” Modern

Fiction Studies, vol. 57, no. 3, 2011, pp. 584-606,1. ProQuest,

http://nclive.org/cgi-bin/nclsm?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/903784291?acco

untid=9935.

“THE LANGUISHING OF THE FALLING MAN: DON DELILLO AND JONATHAN SAFRAN FOER’S PHOTOGRAPHIC HISTORY OF 9/11” is a study which considers how historical imagery is depicted and described in the books Falling Man by Don Delillo and Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer. Both books consider 9/11 imagery that has to do with falling and how or if its historical value lives alongside its aesthetic merit. Like other resources, this study touches on questions of whether or not much of the imagery or media produced during 9/11 was ethical and how pictorial media is superbly effective at relaying ideas instantaneously. By taking a look directly at other author’s input regarding 9/11 media and imagery, this study provides lots of clear information and opinions about the general purpose that images serve in media and how the events of 9/11 were depicted.

PETERS, JEREMY W. “Revisiting 9/11.” New York Times, Sep 05, 2011. ProQuest,

http://nclive.org/cgi-bin/nclsm?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/887485919?acco

untid=9935.

In “Remembering 9/11”, Jeremy W. Peters and Brian Stelter discuss various different media publication networks and their approaches to commemorating 9/11’s anniversary without exploiting it. Although many television channels were offered lots of deals for commercials, since the programs broadcasted on this day would receive much more viewership than normal, there were channels that stopped playing ads for either the whole day or during certain programs. This was done out of respect for the tragedy of the event, so the channels focused more so on educating their audiences and memorializing 9/11 than making money for themselves. How the context of 9/11’s anniversary makes a difference in the behavior of media companies is an interesting topic that would provide important information and context to our research about 9/11 media.

Zurawik, David. “TV has Prepared Ground for Anti-Muslim Feeling.” The Baltimore

Sun, Dec 13, 2015. ProQuest,

http://nclive.org/cgi-bin/nclsm?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/1748585653?acc

ountid=9935.

“TV has Prepared Ground for Anti-Muslim Feeling” focuses primarily on the representation of Arab and Muslim characters in pieces of televised media. While often there are characters that are strong, loyal, and patriotic, there are also still characters depicted as stereotypical, underdeveloped terrorists that still perpetuate a negative view of Arabs and Muslims among audiences. Because of this, something as simple as a Quran or prayer rug has been used as evidence of terrorism to convict Arab or Muslim individuals. Since all of these depictions are portrayed as a byproduct of 9/11 media’s racist misinformation concerning Arabs and Muslims, this article will serve to aid our research.

 

Subversion in the Schoolyard

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Donald Barthelme’s short story ”The School” tells the grim account of a man named Edgar’s experiences working as a teacher in a school surrounded by death. As the story concludes, Edgar’s tone of panicked uncertainty shifts seamlessly into one of hopeful contentment as the story’s grounded yet bizarre subject matter turns into something completely surreal and unexpected. The efficacy of this surrealism, which leaves the reader’s interest piqued, is entirely due to how the story’s conclusion subverts the expectations established by the rest of the story. Though seeming to be the ramblings of a madman, the writing which precedes the conclusion is actually a geniously deliberated framing device that establishes the expected roles that death, the children, and Edgar himself play in the story all for the purpose of having said expectations subverted in a manner that transitions smoothly enough to retain coherency.

From the first few paragraphs of Barthelme’s story, it is easy to assume what direction the story is going in. Sure, mentioning the deaths of curricular orange trees or tropical fish might seem commonplace when it comes to a story about school, but when the story goes from dead trees to dead snakes to dead herbs, dead fish, a dead puppy, and so on, the reader starts to pick up on a pattern. It starts to seem that, as the story progresses, not only do things die, but the importance of what is dying increases. For example, after a puppy that the class had been taking care of dies, the Korean orphan, Kim, that the class had been collecting money to adopt also dies. Beyond this point, various parents, grandparents, and children are said to have died and, though the reader expects the story to conclude in a manner consistent with this pattern, it does not. Instead, rather than providing yet another example of life being destroyed, Barthelme provides an example of life being produced. After Edgar talks with the children in his class about the importance of life, a subject which is also contradictory to the onslaught of death which precedes it, he writes, “then there was a knock on the door, I opened the door, and the new gerbil walked in.” Though what the gerbil is intended to exactly represent is unclear, the image still unexpectedly contradicts the rest of the story, making the surreal tone the ending takes on seem even more alienated from conventional reasoning.

Such subversion is also evident in the characters of Edgar and the children he teaches. In the beginning of the story, Edgar is portrayed as a disorganized individual who relays information to the reader with informal, redundant language. Occasionally, he addresses the reader directly, saying things such as, “you know what I mean,” and “you remember,” which only goes to make Edgar’s character harder to understand. In addition to this, while trying to understand the reasoning behind the many deaths occurring, Edgar often comes off as a bit too nonchalant and dismissive with his conclusions. While he briefly mentions the thoughts and feelings of the children throughout the story, before the conclusion, the children never provide any explicit input that is divorced from Edgar’s own thoughts. However, in the last two paragraphs, which bring the story to a close, these characters cease to abide by such rules, subverting the reader’s pre-established expectations of how these characters should behave. For example, rather than having Edgar mention the children’s feelings as, “… they weren’t too disturbed,” or “they had a lot of fun… ” in the conclusion, the children start to directly address Edgar, such as when he writes, “and they said, is death that which gives meaning to life?” In response, with uncharacteristic brevity and wisdom, Edgar writes, “And I said no, life is that which gives meaning to life.” Not only does this subversion of the reader’s expectations for these characters elucidate the message that Barthelme wishes to convey, but it also keeps readers asking questions and seeking answers to aid their confusion.

Although this subversion enhances the story’s surrealism, Barthelme also makes sure that these shifts in character and concept do not cause the story to lose its meaning or cohesiveness by providing subtle transitions between such contradictory ideas. For example, as Edgar attempts to rationalize the abundance of deaths surrounding the school, his arguments progressively weaken and capsize. In the beginning, his conclusions are solid. For example, he determines the cause of death for the snakes was a strike that shut down the school’s power for a few days and the cause of death for the herb gardens was overwatering. However, as the Korean orphan dies, he says, “it was just a run of bad luck,” and goes on to further rationalize Kim’s death with the fact that many parents had been passing away, making it nothing out of the ordinary. Edgar’s attempts to rationalize the death he faces is consistent with his role in the conclusion of trying to answer questions, even if the answers are far beyond his reach. In addition to this, his excuse of Kim’s death due to the abundant deaths of others seems to be a parallel to his later comment that “life is that which gives meaning to life,” while also serving as a transition between death’s role as something overbearing and death’s role as something overlooked. When it comes to the children’s transition from being dependent on Edgar to being recognized as independent entities, this change takes place at the last point the children are collectively mentioned before the conclusion. In this instance, Edgar makes the remark that, “the class took it pretty hard, they began (I think, nobody ever said anything to me directly) to feel that maybe there was something wrong with the school.” This statement, though not all that different from the other instances in which Edgar talks about the children, recognizes the children as entities with thought processes separate from Edgar’s. This brief acknowledgement is subtle enough to make the change in the children’s character different enough to be surprising, but consistent enough to feel cohesive in the overarching narrative.

Ultimately, though Barthelme’s piece excels in its existential commentary and surrealism, the story’s complex structure and execution is what elevates it into something truly special. The way Barthelme establishes consistent patterns only to enhance the story’s surreal tone by breaking them keeps readers coming back to the story to try and understand the themes lying beneath its surface. To keep such sharp subversions from ruining the reader’s immersion, Barthelme transitions between such ideas with calculated subtlety. All of this culminates into one fantastic story that no reader will soon forget.

The Falling Man: How Actions Shape Identity

In an excerpt from Tom Junod’s essay, “The Falling Man”, Junod analyzes the composition, mood, and context of a famous photograph shot by Richard Drew depicting a man’s suicidal descent from the World Trade Center during 9/11. Through Junod’s meticulous descriptions, of both literal and figurative varieties, as well as his comparison of the Falling Man to other individuals who had jumped, Junod gives insight into the correlations between action and identity and how such correlations ring true, no matter how trying a time may be.  

The Falling Man
The famous image of the Falling Man.

In coherent detail, Junod describes the Falling Man as someone who, in the brevity and inevitability of his last moments, embraces the pull of gravity and seemingly allows himself to die. He shows no fear, no remorse, and barely even any investment in the severity of his situation, opting rather to die content than to die in panic. As Junod says, “if he were not falling, he might very well be flying,” for, the Falling Man’s plummet to the end of his life is accompanied by his stolid relaxation, making his descent seem like a leisurely flight (par.1). In contrast, the other photographed individuals who jumped from the World Trade Center act disorderly and terrified. Where the Falling Man had no fear, these individuals were flailing in their alarm and confusion, losing shoes and shirts as the air whipped around them. Junod describes them as “puny,” “struggling,” and “as though trying to swim down the side of a mountain” (par.1). Their panicked efforts are in vain and, in lieu of the effortless confidence the Falling Man exudes, these people are scared, small, and overshadowed by the large towers behind them, the same towers that the Falling Man “bisects,” asserting himself as one of their equals (par.1). Through such analyses and descriptions, Junod ascribes two very different characterizations to the Falling Man and the other individuals who jumped off of the World Trade Center.

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A photo featuring some of the materials involved in my writing process. 

Throughout the first paragraph of Junod’s essay, the nearly antonymous contrast of Junod’s descriptions of the Falling Man and those around him reveals just how significantly actions can affect identity. When the Falling Man is serene and stoic despite his situation, viewers identify him as someone much more than a victim caught up in the tragedy of 9/11. Viewers are drawn into his seeming control of the situation and are convinced that he is strong and admirable, identifying him as such. What the viewers of 9/11 photography do not do is recognize and, perhaps, idolize the other individuals falling to their death as they do with the Falling Man. This is because, instead of overruling the tragedy of their situation with the strength of their character, the other falling individuals are thrown about like cannon fodder and laid to waste. Their identities do not stand in opposition of or indifference to 9/11’s tragedy, for they embody such tragedy, exemplifying the disorder and debilitating horror such an event wrought. This fear and helplessness then becomes their identities and, rather than being seen as strong and stoic, they are seen as weak due to how their actions present them to the viewer. Because of how the Falling Man and the other falling individuals were assigned different identities based upon how they acted when falling from the World Trade Center, it is reasonable to assert that identity, not an introspective identity but an identity assigned by the public, banks heavily upon how one acts and reacts to the world surrounding him or her.

Just as Junod’s visual descriptions are straightforward and comprehensible, so is the revelation of the truth that one’s actions greatly influence how one is identified by others. Throughout his writing, such a truth is evident in his extrapolations about the Falling Man and others’ identities based on how their actions present themselves in the images captured of their falls. The Falling Man’s nonchalant descent earns him an identity of strength and the others’ panic and terror earns them identities of weakness, proving the aforementioned truth to be viable.

Dogs.

I really like dogs. In practice, they are at the top of my list of favorite animals and quite a lot of my time and energy is spent thinking about them. They are the physical manifestation of love and affection. They are soft and warm and happy and I don’t think there’s anything that could convince me otherwise.

In my household, we currently have three dogs: Chica, Juli, and Pepper. Chica and Juli are beagle sisters and Pepper is, what we presume to be, some sort of German Shepherd mix. We’ve had Chica and Juli for about 10 years and Pepper for a bit over one year. In fact, it was not too long ago that we celebrated Pepper’s Gotcha Day (what we call the day we first found him) and regaled ourselves with the tale of his induction into our familial unit.

It was fairly late into the evening of July 4, 2017. A family of skunks had been making a great exodus from the pasture in front of our house to our backyard and my mother and I were watching the action intently in our driveway. From down the road, we heard a flurry of high-pitched barks ring out across the distance. Of course, we turned away from the skunk shenanigans to investigate these barks and found ourselves in the presence of a small, brown puppy. This small puppy ran towards my mother as she crouched down, held out her arms and picked up the dog.

Fateful Reunion
A fateful encounter. My mother meeting pepper for the first time.

From that instant, that dog’s fate was sealed. We tried and tried to find out who his owners could have been, but it was all to no avail.

We were stuck taking care of this small puppy.

In case anyone was not aware, I’d just like to say that taking care of a puppy is awful. What’s even worse is being the ‘reason’ why your family ends up taking care of the puppy. You see, July 3 is my birthday. That year, for my birthday, mostly as a joke, I said that I wanted a dog for my birthday. Everyone came to the consensus that that was a terrible idea, but I suppose the universe had other plans.

In the week after we got Pepper, I underwent maternal trials that I had never faced before. I had to drag this dog around outside and wait until he used the bathroom. I would give him food and play with him, which sounds nice, except for the fact that he insisted on doing the opposite of what you wanted him to do at all times. Worst of all, at night, I’d lay next to his bed and wait until he fell asleep. I’d slowly creep away, hoping, praying, that he wouldn’t wake up and start to bark. All would be going well, but then I’d step a little too loud and whoosh there goes an hour of precious sleep spent laying next to a small dog, trying to convince it once more that sleep is much better than staying up all night playing with its toys.

I know that it could’ve been a whole lot worse, but in the moment I was so done with this dog that I just wanted to throw him back into the streets. Even so, I’m glad I was able to endure his incompetent puppy stage because now I get to enjoy his competent puppy stage! Sure, he still eats basically everything, is like 40 pounds heavier, and barks at random things, but he’s so cute that I don’t mind! So yes, dogs are a very important part of my life, but it’s not always fun to have them around.