Exploring Literature Chapter 1

Exploring Literature Chapter 1
 Personal Response and Critical Thinking
re begin our exploration of literature with you, the reader. Your engagement
YY creates the literary experience. By itself, the literature in this book, as bril-
liantly crafted or, critically acclaimed as it may be, is just words on a page. Your
reading of these words through the lenses of your own experiences and beliefs
brings them to life and gives them meaning, a meaning as unique as you aré.
Literature reveals a possible world to us. Our engagement and involvement
are the keys to enter this world and imagine its possibilities. Our backgrounds and
| personalities, our understanding of others, our prior experience with literature, our
; knowledge of the world—our sources for. making meaning—are important factors
‘ in this process. And unlike our busy lives, which sometimes race forward with little
time for reflection, literature awaits our examination. We can participate in it as we
experience it, and analyze it as we step back and observe it. o
Investing your emotions and connecting your knowledge and experience with
what you read is an important first step toward our ultimate goal—an apprecia-
tion of literature and the ability to think and write critically about it. In subsequent
chapters, we will build on these confections and analyze the craft with which
literature is created. That analysis will require rereading and reflection, writing and
revising, gathering evidence, and constructing a solid argument to support your
| Most literature does not intend to convey a moral or lesson. ‘At its best, it reveals as
i life reveals. But just as we read and react-to events in our Own lives, our reading
of literature evokes our emotion and judgment. Narrators: and literary characters
express their beliefs in what they say or do, and as we read we compare their
choices with our own, and approve or disapprove as they meet or fail to meet our
expectations. While most good literature does not teach or preach, it does explore
and reveal what it means to be human and provides us with a substantial opportu-
nity for learning and self-understanding. :
4 CHAPTER 1 € Participation
Later on in this chapter, and throughout the book, you are asked to consider
how your own experiences and beliefs influence your responses to literature.
Acknowledging, reviewing, and thinking critically about the judgments you make as
you read may provide you with valuable insights into literature and yourself.
Thinking critically about literature is an outgrowth of our personal responses. It is
natural for us to want to comprehend what moves us or has meaning to us. Even as
children, we may have tried to make sense of what we read by making connections
with our experiences or other stories we read. We knew which books we liked, and
even if we didn’t analyze our reading systematically, we probably wondered what
made those stories appealing to us.
When we think critically about literature, we build on our personal responses—
recording them, reviewing them, discussing them, and supporting them. Being
engaged is a crucial initial component of a complete literary experience. But
once we experience this engagement and believe that literature has something to
offer us, we want to know more about it, see how it triggers our responses and
judgments, understand the skill with which it was created, and articulate what it
means to us. … ;
Critical thinking does not mean searching for one right Answer. There may be
as many answers as there are readers. Your best answers are those that analyze and
articulate your responses in light of supporting evidence. This is critical thinking, a
process that can make your opinions about literature well-informed ones.
Writing is an excellent way to learn about literature. Whether you are jotting
down notes, writing in a journal, or constructing a formal essay, you are learning.
You learn when you struggle to choose the right words to describe your impres-
sions, and when you revise those words because they are not quite what you
mean. And you are learning when you “get it just right” and see your words
match what you want to say. In short, writing your responses helps you articulate
what you think and feel more clearly—an essential step in the critical thinking
Your First Response
When you read a work of literature for the first time, relax and give yourself enough
time to experience it. Don't try too hard to figure it out. Get impressions. Notice
words and phrases. Read them out loud. Listen to the rhythms. Follow the personal
associations that come up. Let yourself feel the emotions connected to them. Dont
be discouraged if you have difficulty understanding every word or line. Keep a dic-
tionary handy and look up unfamiliar words. Let your unanswered questions ‘stick
with you. Write them down if you think you won’t remember them. Record your
Writing to Learn 5
responses while they're fresh. If you wait until later, you may forget. You might
come away from your reading with more questions than answers. So a second or
third reading with these questions in mind may clarify much that was confusing in
your first reading: This close reading and annotation is addressed at greater length
in the opening pages of Chapter 3.
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D Do any of the characters remind you of yourself or people you knows Bo
1. Do these associations help or:interfere Withyour response? f so,.how?. : —
O Is.thére anything that you don't like-about the work? If so, whatand why? -
LJ What do you find most interesting or compelling about the work? Do. o
any of the characters especially appeal to you ot bother you? Do you
find any of the events especially pleasing ‘or disturbing? Explain,
Keeping a Reading Log
One of the best tools for exploring and thinking about your experiences with lit-
erature is a reading log. Journals and reading logs can help you view and review
your ideas. Write in your most natural voice and don’t worry about sounding wise,
Take chances and try out ideas. Your responses, along with subsequent reading
and’ the comments of classmates, can help you develop ideas as you write the
essays required by your instructor. If you are conscientious about keeping your
log, your entries will evolve naturally into the, meaning you've constructed from
the work. Recording your observations at this stage will provide you with much
support later. +A В
What you write in ‘your log is your choice. You may or may not like what you
read. You may find it engaging or filled with meaning. You may find it confusing or
boring. Whatever your response, you'll benefit most if your entries honestly reflect
your experience. co ВЫ | | В a
An electronic variation of the log is a designated space in an online discussion
forum like Blackboard. Each posting accounts for your first impressions during
and after your reading. Both your instructor and other members of your class may
read and respond to your postings and use them to initiate class discussion—online
or in the classroom. |
6 CHAPTER 1 e Participation
There is no one correct way of keeping a log. The brief excerpts from student
journals that follow are all different, but each is a start and could be built upon
to develop a more formal essay. (“Araby” begins on p. 407 and “There’s a Certain
Slant of Light” is on p. 1249.) Even if you are not familiar with these pieces, these
samples reflect the kinds of issues that might be addressed in response to any work
of literature,
From confusion:
I found the story of “Araby” to be a little confusing. I couldn’t really
fathom what the actual point of the story was. There is a boy whose name
is not mentioned, and he apparently has some sort of infatuation with a
nun. He spies on her, peering through a tiny crack in his shades. He ends
up talking to her and telling her that if he goes to Araby, the bazaar,
he will buy her a present because she cannot go.
The last line of the story intrigued me. “Gazing up into the darkness
I saw myself as a creature driven and derided by vanity; and my eyes
burned with anguish and anger.” I guess he said this because he did not
buy her anything at Araby. I don’t exactly know why.
To an appreciation of the author's artistry:
The beginning of “Araby” was written with a lot of descriptive
words. As soon as I began to read sentence by sentence, the words formed
pictures in my mind. I got the feeling of a painting being painted stroke by
stroke. The description of the street being blind and quiet except when the
school set the boys free gave me a feeling of quiet and then sudden noise,
as the boys came rushing through the streets. Describing the air as cold,
the space of the sky as aver-changing viciet allowed me to feel the cold and
see the colors.
From identification:
The first time I read the lines “There's a. certain slant of light, / Winter
Afternoons— / That oppresses, like the Heft / of Cathedral Tunes—” I had an
immediate picture of grayish-white skies and ccid, bare ground. It was almost
frightening. The first stanza expresses a, feeling I've had fora lifetime of
hideous, anxiety-filled, depressing Sunday winter afternoons. From childhood,
with homework unfinished and school rearing its terrifying Monday-morning
head, through adulthood and its end-of-the-weekend, back to work dread, I've
experienced that “Seal Despair."
Writing to Learn 7
. To complete frustration:
'Tve read this poem over and over, repeatedly, nonstop, until I finally
collapsed from total exhaustion. WHAT DOES IT MEAN!? What light? The
winter afternoon light? As heavy as cathedral tunes? Find a scar from what?
Internal difference? Meanings? Agdggh! Help. Could the author be talking
‘about the sun? All I have are questions when it comes to this poem. I do like
| the choice of words, though, They sounded grand, royal, imperial, and made,
“me feel lixe there was something to grab from them. But I couldn't make
‘sense of it.
Double-Entry Journals and Logs
Bécause you may be asked to read añd write comments about your journal or E log
entries from time to time, an especially effective format is thé double-entry journal.
By writing on only the front side of each page (or on the right half of each page),
you will leave the back of the previous page (or the left half of each page) free
for subsequent commentary (new ideas, revisions, summation, etc. ) while reread-
ing and reflecting. Leaving this space, you may go back later, read through your
comments, circle and make notes about entries you've made, of add additional
comments based on subsequent readings or class discussion.
(Original Response)
I could relate what Joyce
was saying to nowadays. 1 myself Ш
have felt that way. All your 5
words and festings are jumbled
(Subsequent Comment) р — around one person. A crush. It’s.
She's not a nun. I found out very stressful and exhilarating В
“in class that parochial schools af the same time. 1 do have one |
were sometimes called convent question, though, Was the object ‘ | )
séhools back then. You didn't - ‘ of Joyce's desire and affection a
have to be a nun to go there, That | | nún? I didn’ b feel that aspect was 3 I
part of the story makes much presented b too clearly. Maybe I'm a
more sense to me now. . misreading.
The Social Nature of Learning: Collaboration
Writing ideas down is one effective way to learn, but so much of what we: learn
is also learned through conversation. Sharing our responses with others, and
8 CHAPTER 1 e Participation
listening to their feedback and ideas, help us build and clarify our own ideas. By
articulating what you think you know and what you need to know through con-
versation, you may develop a clearer understanding of the literature.
Interpretive Communities Stanley Fish, a professor and literary critic, has
suggested that readers who share the same approach to literature belong to “an
interpretive community.” Although our interpretations are influenced by whatever
collaborative group or class we are in at present, we also carry and apply our own
individual values and those of many other communities (family, friends, religion)
to which we belong. In this respect, we are members of many interpretive com-
munities, and we are continually refiguring and revising our interpretations and
evaluations in the light of our personal beliefs and group discussions. Throughout
this text you'll be encouraged to exchange ideas and collaborate with your class-
mates in pairs and small groups. You may find it worthwhile and productive to
keep track of this complex mix of personal response and group discussion as you
write about the literature you read.
Personal, Not Private
Many of the questions that follow in this chapter prompt you to write about personal
issues. These questions are not an attempt to invade your privacy or encourage you
to write about aspects of your life or experience that may embarrass you or make
you feel uncomfortable. What is personal or private is very different for each of us.
You may choose some responses to share and other responses for your eyes only.
That choice is always yours.
Our early experiences with books may have a significant influence on how we feel
about reading. For many of us who enjoy reading, this joy was discovered early in
our lives and outside the classroom. We felt free to read without fear of having our
responses judged as right or wrong. For many who do not like to read, however,
reading was often a painful chore, usually an assignment for the classroom with all
the accompanying pressures of being evaluated. How often we read now may be
motivated by these earlier experiences. |
You might find it worthwhile to write about some of these experiences in your
log or share them with others. It may be illuminating to see how much you have in
common as a reader with other members of the class.
The process of reading often raises more questions than it answers. Some
of the most important questions fo address are the ones you bave raised
yourself. So before you answer the questions that Jollow each selection in
this chapter, you may want to write down your first impressions and any
questions that came to mind during and after your reading. -
Ourselves as Readers 59
Different Kinds of Reading
For many of us, the different types of reading assigned in 1 school were often
treated the same way. Reading that dealt primarily with content or factual
information was often not distinguished from imaginative. literature. We know,
however, that different types of reading material require very different kinds
of involvement, Reading a science text, for example, requires that we focus on
acquiring information for future use, whereas a poem, play, or work of fiction,
while requiring our understanding of the facts, seeks to involve us personally i in
the moment—to have us share an experience, to evoke our feelings.
Read the following paragraph.
CAUTION—NOT FOR PERSONAL USE—If splashed on skin or in eyes,
rinse immediately. If accidentally taken internally give large amounts
of milk or water. Call a physician. Point mouth of container away from
1. What is your response to the advice in this paragraph?.
2. To what extent is this warning label subject to personal interpretation?
3. Did you find yourself more engaged with the emotion or with the informa-
tion in this paragraph? Explain,
Read the following poem.
PETER MEINKE [s. 1932]
for Tim
The trick is, to live your days
as if each one may be your last
(for they go fast, and young men lose their lives
in strange and unimaginable ways)
but at the same time, plan long range E Le 5
(for they go slow: if you survive
the shattered windshield, and the bursting shell
you will arrive | Co |
at our approximation here below. o | В
of heaven or hel). | В о В 20
ar ym pm a
10 CHAPTER 1 e Participation
To be specific, between the peony and the rose
plant squash and spinach, turnips and tomatoes;
beauty is nectar
and nectar, in a desert, saves—
but the stomach craves stronger sustenance a 15
than the honied vine.
Therefore, marry a pretty girl
after seeing her mother;
speak truth to one man,
work with another; В 20
and always serve bread with your wine.
But, son,
always serve wine,
1. What is your response to the advice in this poem?
2. To what extent is the poem subject to personal interpretation?
3. Did you find yourself more engaged with the emotion or the information in
this poem? Explain.
Compare your response lo the warning label paragraph with your response to the
poem “Advice to My Son.”
1. Both the poem and the warning label give advice. In what way was your
reading experience with each different?
2. Did the physical appearance of each influence how you read it? If the warn-
ing label were written in verse form, would you have read it with different
expectations? |
3. To what extent can you connect the advice given in the poem to your own
— background or experience? To what extent can you connect the advice
given in the warning label?
4. Did you learn anything from the poem? From the warning label? If so, did
the nature of what you learned differ in each case? Explain.
Among the many factors that influence our response to literature is identifi-
cation with characters, circumstances, and issues. Our personalities, back-
grounds, and experiences can have a strong impact on these connections. Being
aware of these influences can tell us much about our tesponses—and the works
Connecting Through Experience 11
We may identify with characters because we see elements of ourselves in them
or because we admire characteristics that we jack. and wish we had. We might
respond negatively to characters because aspects of their personalities are different
from ours or similar to ones we don't like in ourselves. We may agree or disagree
with what the characters say or do, or ask ourselves if we would have behaved the
same way.
Conversely, by showing us a view of life that is different from our own, we
may learn from literature as we learn from life itself. o
images of Ourselves
How we view ourselves in relation to the world around us is very complex. We
probably have an image of who we are that we carry within us most of the time, but
we are likely to project a different personality according to the situations (home,
work, school, etc) in which we find ourselves. Depending on our relationships
with them, the people we know are also likely to describe us very differently. Our
families, friends, casual -acquaintances, employets, and teachers may experience
who we are in very different ways. |
The self-images we carry with us into adulthood may be formed during childhood.
Try to remember how you felt about yourself as a child and compare that self-image
with how you see yourself now.
PAUL ZIMMER. Is. 1934]
In grade school I wondered
Why I had been born
To. wrestle in the ashy puddles,
With my square nose
Streaming mucus and blood.
My knuckles puffed from combat
And the old nun’s ruler,
I feared everything: God, :
Learning and my schoolmates.
I could not count, spell or read.
My report card proclaimed
These scarlet failures. : |
My parents wrang their loving hands,
My guardian angel wept constantly.
But Ï could never hide anything.
ee tT ae
i2 CHAPTER 1 ¢ Participation
If I peed my pants in class
The puddle was always quickly evident.
My worst mistakes were at |
The blackboard for Jesus and all
The saints to see. 20
Even now
When I hide behind an elaborate mask (
It is always known that I am Zimmer,
The one who does the messy papers
And fractures all his crayons,
Who spits upon the radiators
And sits all day in shame
Outside the office of the principal.
1. What did you wonder about yourself in grade school? To what extent do
you still wonder the same things? |
2. What does the speaker mean by “When I hide behind an elaborate mask /
Ad It is always known that I am Zimmer”? Who is Zimmer?
A| 3. To what extent is your response to “zimmer in Grade School” affected by
a your own experience?
| Culture, Experience, and Values
Who we are and how we respond to literature is also influenced by many other
| factors. Family, religion, race, gender, friends, other influential people in our lives,
; | and our experiences shape our views in significant ways. Once again, an awareness
| of these factors can help us think critically about our responses to literature—and
the works themselves. :
We may come from a family that is strongly connected to its ethnic roots, -
religious or not religious at all, closely knit or disconnected, warm and welcom-
ing, suffocating, or cold and impersonal. Or we may not have a family at all. Our
friends, too, may affect who we are, what we believe, and how we act.
We may be strongly influenced by our race, ethnic background, or gender. If
we have never experienced or witnessed discrimination, we might not be able to
understand its significance. If we have witnessed prejudice or had it directed against
us, we know how devastating it can be. Our gender may affect the expectations
others have for us, the encouragement we receive for education and career goals,
marriage and family, even our involvement in sports. And it certainly influences our
view of the opposite sex. | | |
If we are deeply religious, it might be at the heart of everything we value. If
we are not, our religious backgrounds may still exert a strong influence on our
lives. What we do for a living, how old we are, our sexual orientation, our dis-
abilities, or other factors may also affect how we see the world—and the literature
we read.
Connecting Through Experience 13
Most of us can probably identify a person who was “always there” for us and who
seemed to do the things that really mattered without being asked and who may
often have been taken for granted.
Before you read the following poem, try to recall someone like that in your
own life. |
ROBERT HAYDEN [1913-1980]
Sundays too my father got up early
and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold,
then with cracked hands that ached
from labor in the weekday weather made
banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him. 5
I'd wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.
When the rooms were warm, he’d call,
and slowly I would rise and dress,
fearing the chronic angers of that house,
Speaking indifferently to him, | 19
who had driven out the cold | В
and polished my good shoes as well.
What did I know, what did I know
of love’s austere and lonely offices?
Describe the situation in the poem. Who is the speaker?
How does the speaker feel? Have you ever had similar feelings?
3. If you could identify a person who was “always there” for you, how does
this remembrance influence your understanding of the poem?
4. What does the speaker mean by “love's austere and lonely offices”?
5. What other words, phrases, or parts of the poem had an impact on you?
How so?
6. Compare this poem to Theodore Roethke's “My Papa s Waltz” CP. 274)
or “Advice to My Son” on page 9.
In a world that bombards us with images from television, films, and magazines,
many of us fee! great pressure to look or behave in particular ways. Sometimes this
pressure may even make us value our own individual strengths less favorably than
14 CHAPTER 1 e Participation
what is simply more popular. See if you can recall a time when you felt pressured
this way and how you reacted to that pressure.
MARGE PIERCY [5. 1936]
This girlchild was born as usual
and presented dolls that did pee-pee
and miniature GE stoves and irons —
| and wee lipsticks the color of cherry candy.
| Then in the magic of puberty, a classmate said: 5
You have a great big nose and fat legs. |
i She was healthy, tested intelligent,
possessed strong arms and back,
abundant sexual drive and manual dexterity.
She went to and fro apologizing.
Everyone saw a fat nose on thick legs.
She was advised to play coy,
exhorted to come on hearty,
exercise, diet, smile and wheedie.
Her good nature wore out
Like a fan belt.
So she cut off her nose and her legs
and offered them up.
In the casket displayed on satin she lay
with the undertaker’s cosmetics painted on,
a turned-up putty nose,
dressed in a pink and white nightie.
Doesn't she look pretty? everyone said.
Consummation at last.
To every woman a happy ending. 25
1. To what extent is your response influenced by your own experience? Could
you identify with the feelings of the “girlchild” in this poem?
2 The media bombards us with images that pressure us to act or look a
certain way. How does your experience with advertisements, television,
movies, magazines, Or newspapers influence your response to the poem?
3. Do you think a female reader is likely to respond differently to this poem
than a male reader? Explain. |
4. Do you think the “girlchild” is literally dead at the end of the poem?
Explain. | В
Being in the Moment
5. What do you think “Consummation at fast. / To every woman a happy
. ending.” means? ВЕ 5
6: What other words, phrases, or parts of the poem affected you? How so? -
7: Compare this poem with “Advice to My Son” (p. 9). If Meinke's poem
й were called. “Advice to My Daughter ” do you think the advice would be
des same? ? Explain. =
We can’t get at the heart of our ‘experience with literature by summarizing it. We
might account for all that. matters on the “Caution” label on the bleach bottle (p, 9)
by saying, “This is. 4 ‘very caustic liquid and you could hurt yourself by coming
in contaet ‘with it.” But we couldn't get at our experience of the poem “Those
Winter Sundays” ©. 13) by saying, “The poet learned to appreciate how his father
expressed love for him.” We read the warning label for the information we take
away with us; the label seeks to inform us. Literature seeks to involve us.
| A newspaper article, for example, might relate the “who, what, when, where,
and why” of an event, but literature must do much more than that. It may even move
us to question events in our own lives and influence us as we make our own deci-
sions. The following newspaper account appeared i in. The New York Times the day
after the racially motivated bombing of a church i in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1963.
ots. ! Flare; 2 B
Boys Slain
Wallace Acts on City Plea
E for Help as 20 Are Injured
Special to The New York Times “-
BIRMINGHAM, Ala.; Sept. 15—{1963]
“ A bomb severely damaged a Negro whites were hurt in the disorders that |
| church today during Sunday school ser- followed. °° |
vices, killing four Negro girls and setting - Some’ 500 National Guardsmen in
off racial rioting and other rioting in battle dress stood by at armories here
which two Negro boys were shot to tonight on' orders of Gov. George С.
death. Fourteen Negroes were injured Wallace, And 300 state troopers joined
in the explosion. One Negro and five the Birmingham police, Jefferson.
16 CHAPTER 1 e Participation
County sheriff's deputies and other law-
enforcement units in efforts to restore
Governor Wallace sent the guards-
men and the troopers in response to
requests from local authorities.
Sporadic gunfire sounded in Negro
neighborhoods tonight, and small bands
of residents roamed the streets. Aside
from the patrols that cruised the city
atmed with riot guns, carbines and shot-
guns, few whites were seen.
— Fire Bomb Hurled
At one point, three fires burned
simultaneously in Negro sections, one
at a broom and mop factory, one at
a roofing company and a third in
another building. An incendiary bomb
was tossed into a supermarket, but
the flames were extinguished swiftly.
Fire marshals investigated blazes at
two vacant houses to see if arson was
The explosion at the 16th Sireet
Baptist Church this morning brought
hundreds of angry Negroes pouring
into the streets. Some attacked the
police with stones. The police dis-
persed them by firing shotguns over
their heads. Johnny Robinson, a 16
year old Negro, was shot in the back
by a policeman with a shotgun this
afternoon. Officers said the victim was
among a group that hurled stones at
white youths driving through the area
in cars flying Confederate battle flags.
When the police arrived, the youths
fled, and one policeman said he had
fired low but that some of the shot had
struck the Robinson youth in the back.
Virgil Wade, a 13-year old Negro,
was shot and killed just outside
Birmingham while riding a bicycle. The
Jefferson County sheriff's office said
| ‘ tad Pa IA
AYYEA TLAST: Nowe werbon auna Artriy 20626 Sige fat La tratan
“there apparently was no reason at all”
for the killing, but indicated that it was
related to the general racial disorders.
Wallace Offers Reward
Governor Wallace, at the request
of city officials, offered a $5,000 reward
for the arrest and conviction of the
None of the 50 bombings of Negro -
property here since World War II have
been solved.
The four girls killed in the blast had
just heard Mrs, Ellis C. Demand, their
teacher, complete the Sunday School
lesson for the day. The subject was “The
Love That Forgives.”
The blast occurred at about
10:25 A.M. (12:25 P.M. New York time).
Church members said they found
the girls huddled together beneath a
pile of masonry debris. |
Parents of 3 Are Teachers
Both parents of each of the victims
teach in the city’s schools. The dead
were identified by University Hospital
officials as:
Cynthia Wesley, 14, the only
child of Claude A. Wesley, principal
of the Lewis Elementary School, and
Being in the Moment 17
Mrs. Wesley, a teacher there.
Denise McNair, 11, also an only
child, whose parents are teachers.
Carol Robertson, 14, whose parents
are teachers and whose grandmother,
Mrs. Sallie Anderson, is one of the Negro
members of a biracial committee estab-
lished by Mayor Boutwell to deal with
racial problems,
Adie Mae Collins, 14, about whom
no information was immediately
through walls in the church base-
ment, Floors of offices in the rear of
the sanctuary appeared near collapse,
Stairways were blocked by splintered
window frames, glass, and timbers.
Chief Police Inspector W. J. Haley
said the impact of the blast indicated
that at least 15 sticks of dynamite’
might have caused it. He said the.
police had talked to two. witnesses
who reported having seen a car drive
by the church, slow down and then
- The blast blew gaping holes speed away before the blast.
1. What is your response to this newspaper article?
2. Did you find yourself more engaged with the emotion or the information in
this article? Explain. |
Read the following poem about the same event.
“Mother dear, may I go downtown
Instead of out to play, - |
And march the streets of Birmingham
In a Freedom Match today?”
“No, baby, no, you may not go, - | | ВЕ „5
For the dogs are fierce and wild, | a
And clubs and hoses, guns and jails
Aren’t good for a little child.” —
“But, mother, T won't be alone .
Other children will go with me, - + TR 10
And march the streets of Birmingham
To make our country free.”
“No, baby, no, you may not go,
For I fear those guns will-fire.
But you may go to church instead . o O | AS
And sing in the children's choir.”.. |
18 CHAPTER 1 ¢ Participation
She has combed and brushed her night-dark hair,
And bathed rose petal sweet, |
And drawn white gloves on her smail brown hands,
And white shoes on her feet. 20
The mother smiled to know her child
Was in that sacred place,
But that smile was the last smile
To come upon her face.
For when she heard the explosion, 25
Her eyes grew wet and wild.
She raced through the streets of Birmingham
Calling for her child.
She clawed through bits of glass and brick,
Then lifted out a shoe.
“O, here's the shoe my baby wore,
But, baby, where are you?”
1. What is your response to this poem?
2. Did you find yourself more engaged with the emot
this poem? Explain.
3. In what way did your experience of reading the poem differ from your
reading of the article?
ion or the information in
1. Both the newspaper article and the poem recount the bombing. What
makes the poem different from the newspaper account?
2. What did you learn from the newspaper account? What
the poem? How was the nature of what you learned from each different?
3. To what extent is your response to “Ballad of Birmingham” influenced by
your own experience? | |
4 How does the rhyme scheme affect your response to the poem's content:
The second and fourth lines of each stanza rhyme. How does this rhyme
scheme and the rhythm of the poem affect you? How might it change
your response if the first and third lines rhymed instead—or as well?
did you learn from -
It's essential that we are active participants when we read or listen to imaginative
literature. But if we look for the parts of a poem before we have experienced the
whole, we may shut down the emotions we need to experience it—and miss the life
Using Qur Imaginations 19
of the poem. Placing ourselves emotionally inside the poem, rather than examining
it rationally from the outside, enables us to feel and sense the words and images
and lets these impressions wash over us, Poetry sometimes involves an imagining
that is like our dreams and reveals things to us that are not always understood in
rational ways.
However, like much of the “academic” reading we do, reading poetry
occurs most often in school. And school, with its right and wrong answers,
has a way of making us tense and rigid (and very rational). If you had heard
(studied) some of your favorite songs and music for the first time in school, you
might never have loosened up enough to like them at all. Poems are not math
problems—they don’t have one “correct” answer. They might not even “add
up.” The right answer is the one that makes the most sense to you, a “sense”
supported by your own imagination and the text of the poem itself. Being con-
fused and making mistakes along the. way is part of the process of finding your
own right answer.
When we read, the strength of our emotional involvement is based on our ability
to experience scenes as if we were there, If we “surrender” ourselves, we not
only imagine the details provided, we create ones that are not. We may occasion-
ally say, or hear people say, “I liked the book better than the movie” or “I can’t
believe so and so was cast in that role.” We probably mean, “I liked the movie
of the book in my mind better than the movie on the screen” or “That actor is
nothing like the character I created in my mind.” Unless we complete the picture
in our minds by filling in the details, we won't have a satisfying experience with
Where do we get these details? Some of what we imagine is shared and comes
from our cultural backgrounds. And some of what we imagine is personal and
familiar and is fueled by our own experiences—the people, places, or events in our
own lives. For example, it doesn’t have to be summer for us to imagine the sun
and heat on the beach—or winter for us to imagine snow. Through our “sense”
memories, we can “recall” now what we felt and saw then. What we see in our
“mind’s eye” may also derive from music, television, film, other forms of media,
and other things we have read.
In this exercise, you may find it illuminating to share your work with a pariner
or a small group. | |
1. Take a look back through your responses and select some of your strongest
reactions or impressions. For example, how did you picture the house in
Robert Hayden's poem “Those Winter Sundays”? What did the mother and
the little girl look like in “Ballad of Birmingham”? Think about the pictures
in your mind from other poems or stories you have read.
20 CHAPTER 1 ¢ Participation
Where do your pictures come from? How much of what you picture in each
of these scenes comes from detail that the author provides and how much
completely from your imagination?
3. Compare the pictures you've created with those of your partner or other
classmates in your group. What is similar and what is different about their
responses? How can you account for your differences? -
4. Tf you wrote down details to support your own response, do those details
adequately convey it? Do those details include specific references to the
text? ; ; о
5. Are there places where you might have clarified your response through
a comparison (with other characters, people you know, other students’
responses)? o
6. If you did not write down supporting details or if you did not cite the text.
for support, go back to the poem(s) and see if you can, o
You've probably come across the statement “The whole is equal to the sum of
its parts.” Seems to make sense, doesn’t it? Well, in some areas of study it does,
but it cannot account for our response to literature, In literature and. other artistic
expressions, there is a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts, a whole that
blossoms as the parts come together in our imaginations. 5 В
We don’t like our favorite music because we identify the parts and add them
up to a whole experience; we like it because we experience the sound of the instru-
ments, the rhythms, the voices, the lyrics, all together and all at once. For all of us
that means more than the sum of the notes or words we hear, and to each of us
that means something different. a
. Like music, literature cannot be reduced to its parts to account for its meaning.
But like music, there are parts, and as we become more experienced listeners or
readers—and believe that literature has something to offer us-—we want to know
how those parts work together. In subsequent chapters, we will try to comprehend
the craft with which the parts are assembled.
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