November 20th Journal Entry

The thesis workshop we did really helped me refine the ideas that I had for the final capstone paper.  I came into class with the general idea of examining the book from differing ethnic perspectives, but my thesis was weak and the idea didn’t hold much promise.  I talked to Ryan and Hannah, who helped me identify the weaknesses in my thesis.  My original thesis was something along the lines of “I will be examining how foreign languages and English dialects are used in Madame Butterfly, A Japanese Nightingale, and the works of Zitkala-sa”.  The problem is that I wasn’t really making a claim.

After looking long and hard at my thesis, I decided to switch topics.  Instead, I will be trying to identify what things women from diverse backgrounds felt were important.  After identifying some issues, I will make a statement based on my findings and use evidence to support it.  This method of thesis construction will yield a much more pointed paper than what I was doing before.

I thought that Ryan’s thesis was interesting, if a little long winded.  There were a few things he could have cut out while still making the same point, but his general idea was interesting and I look forward to hearing more about it.  Hannah was struggling to find a thesis at this point, which is surprising given how on top of things she usually is.  I’ll have to reserve my judgement on her work for later.

I always think that the relationships in these books are interesting, because they tell a lot about what the author is trying to say.  Yezierska repeatedly put Masha, Fania, and Bessie in stark juxtaposition to Sara in order to give her view on how male-female relationships should work, at least romantically.  Sara is happy in her relationship, while her three sisters are miserable in theirs.  That’s not to say that romantic relationships are the only important ones.  The relationship between mother and daughter in Bread Givers reminds me a little of the relationship between Zitkala-Sa and her mother.  Both Sara and Zitkala-Sa move away in order to pursue a higher education.  Neither of their mothers agree with the decision, but they each love their child enough to provide support.

This book was published a little over a decade before the outbreak of World War II, so I’d be curious to know if there was an anti-Semitic reaction to Bread Givers.  Living as a Jew in the early 20th century must have been hard, and many Jews were certainly immigrating from Europe around this time.

In reading some additional historical information, I happened upon some interesting immigration trends.  There was a large group of Jews entrenched in New York by 1900.  These people had become accustomed to New York and “Americanized”.  After this, a wave of more orthodox Jews from Eastern Europe arrived in New York, conflicting with the entrenched Jewish population due to cultural differences.  According to the census, by the 1920’s over 2.2 million Eastern European Jews had immigrated to New York City.  Yezierska is obviously making a case for the Americanized Jew versus the Orthodox Jew of her and Sara’s childhood.  I thought that Yezierska was only making a case for the role of the new woman; I hadn’t even stopped to consider the effect of religion even though Judaism was such a prominent factor in this book.

I don’t know that I’ve seen these writers directly address each other, but I have seen many authors confront the same issues, albeit often in different ways.  They all seem to have problems being seen as legitimate by men, adapting to their role as a new woman, and living with the new freedoms that this role entails.

Campus Event Journal #5

On the last Friday is Writing day, we discussed the (almost) lost art of letter writing.  Coming into the event, I didn’t expect to find writing very prevalent among a younger demographic in college students.  What I didn’t remember is that military members are restricted to only writing and receiving letters while they are on duty.  Hearing testimony from Ryan and another student about the impact receiving letters had on them while they were in training gave me an appreciation for letters that I hadn’t had before.

I can understand the thrill that accompanies receiving a letter; it is like when someone you haven’t heard from in a while gives you a phone call or sends you a message.  The difference with letters is that it is only a one way correspondence.  This is why letters are so unique.  A letter gives a person the ability to think about what they are writing, thoughtfully express themselves, and give the other person the opportunity to do the same.  While letter writing is certainly a slower mode of communication than what is available in today’s society, there is still value in writing letters because it allows for the expression of sentiment that is more difficult using other mediums.

Following the discussion, I took a letter from one of the bins and plan to send it.  I’m not exactly sure whom I will send it to or what I will say, but I do know that I will be able to say it clearly, concisely, and with no loss of sentiment over a letter.

Final Journal Reflection

I’ve always found two parts of writing to be particularly painful: Starting and finishing a piece.  Finding the right words to introduce my ideas to an unfamiliar, but eager, audience is mind-melting.  Once I’m firmly entrenched in a new setting, ideas can flow, free from worry of the kind of judgement which suppresses and stifles creativity.  I have found that my academic career has run parallel to my writing process.

As a freshman at Morningside, I had trouble acclimating myself to a new environment; However, once I settled into my majors, I had the stability and comfort to express my ideas more fully.  As our class, and my academic career, winds down, I’m starting to realize a few things.  The first is that I feel woefully unprepared for whatever the future holds.  I think this sort of disillusionment with reality is common among college graduates, but it is nevertheless frightening.  The prospect of not having a job seems ridiculous when looking at things objectively, but I’m nevertheless terrified.

The second thing I’ve realized is that I feel much more confident in my ability to successfully pursue a career than I did when I first came to Morningside.  I know that this may seem to run in opposition to what I just said, but I really feel confident about the progress I have made while at Morningside.  I think a lot of this has to do with pursuing two subjects that I wasn’t the most comfortable in and learning to grow because of it.  I know that we haven’t known each other for my entire college career, but I feel like it’s worth knowing that one of my weakest subjects coming into college was English.  I had always considered myself creative, but had always resisted the idea of sharing my ideas with other people, because I didn’t want my ideas to be subject to a grade.  Working with the professors here at Morningside has been a pleasure because everyone, including yourself, has been not only willing, but eager to work with me.  Thank you for that.

As I move on from my time here at Morningside, I will take many of the skills I have learned here with me.  The English department has taught me how to clearly and effectively communicate my ideas.  I’ve also learned a lot about taking time to separate myself from my work and look at the things I do more objectively.  I feel like these are skills which hold great significance outside of the field of English, and that I will be using these for the rest of my life.

One of my regrets from my time on campus is that I could not have been more involved in English activities.  I’ve always held a passion for writing, yet I have never submitted any work to the Kiosk.  This is a mistake that I hope to rectify.  There have been many student slams on campus, but I have never read at one.  This is another mistake that I hope to rectify.

As I end my time here at Morningside, I’m having trouble finding the right words to say.  I’d like to finish with a flourish, deftly mustering my ideas into form as I prepare to leave a safe and familiar place for new horizons, but I’m left grasping at the wispy contrails of my thoughts as they fly by, instead.  My departure from the cozy terminal of Morningside feels a lot like this sentence.  I’m trying a little too hard to make something beautiful.  In the case of school, I’m worried about making sure I leave on the perfect note, performing well in swimming, expressing my ideas in writing to great enthusiasm, whether they been in a class or otherwise, and creating good final memories with my friends.  In the case of that sentence, I carried the airplane metaphor a little too long when I began describing terminals as comfortable.

Regardless of how my time here at Morningside ends, I appreciate all that has happened while I was here.  The people that I met and the experiences that I had prepared me for the rest of my life in a way that I’m not sure would have happened in many other environments.  Thanks you for facilitating this class, for putting up with my consistently late assignments, and, most of all, for being supportive and enthusiastic about my work.


Campus Event Journal #4

On Friday, November 14th, I went to Friday is Writing Day.  Here, Developmental Psychology students discussed the work that they had done throughout the semester.  There were a variety of different projects that students covered, ranging from an essay over what things the student learned from their parents and how it applied to developmental psychology to a simulation which raised a virtual child from birth until age eighteen.

The first student gave his presentation over the things his parents taught him while he was a child.  He talked about how many of the things that he had learned in his developmental psych class, including how to be firm without being domineering.

The next student did a series of interviews with people in different stages of their lives, a child, an adult, and an elderly person.  The goal of the paper was to record perspectives on life from people all across the age spectrum.  The child he interviewed was very optimistic about the future, and the adult was worried about what world his children would be growing up in.  The old man who was interviewed was more focused on the things which would directly and immediately impact his life, rather than the broad picture.

Lastly, a student gave their presentation over the challenges associated with raising a virtual child.  The student used an online simulator to raise a child from birth to the age of eighteen.  Using the methods she learned in class, the student chose to use an authoritarian style of parenting, focusing on strong leadership and explanations for punishments.

While these presentations didn’t directly relate to this class, they, like the staff writing discussed in a previous campus event journal, showed a variety of different ways to communicate and learn.

Campus Event Journal #3

I watched the slam poets, The Dynamic Duo, while they were on campus.  Although I had seen them before, I still appreciated the old pieces they had performed as well as the new pieces they brought out.

What stands out the most about The Dynamic Duo is their stage presence.  They have a firm command of their audience and keep them engaged throughout the performance.  The Dynamic Duo had certain sets that allowed them to easily incorporate audience members without deviating too far from their set.  This technique involved minimal improvisation, although the two made it seem like they were making things up on the spot.

This audience control is something that all writers use.  By controlling what information the reader is privy to, the writer is able to make an otherwise ordinary moment in a story captivating.  This is not the only technique The Dynamic Duo used that holds application in writing, however.

The poetry that the duo read contained the kind of empathy typically reserved for intimate conversation among loved ones.  Their works were personal, inviting the listeners into their own lives and creating another environment, separate from the crowded room they were performing in.  The listener could feel their pain without worry that the judgement of others would soon be raining down upon them.

One of the greatest appeals of a book is the intimacy involved with reading.  A reader forms a relationship with the characters of a book, becoming engrossed in their lives, feeling pain when they do, wishing for things to help the character through whatever struggle the book presents, and eagerly yearning to know what happens next.  This sort of personal relationship is at the heart of every book and is one of the reasons that The Dynamic Duo was so successful.

Campus Event Journal #2

On Friday, October 31st, I attended Friday is Writing Day, where I listened to three new campus writers give presentations on their work.

The first presenter read a segment from his book on Chicago gangster rap.  He talked about how he met the rapper he would be following over the course of the book.  The writing really set the mood of the story, as he gave vivid descriptions of Chicago’s urban decay.

The second professor’s work was an analysis of the political blogging that occurred in the last election cycle.  She used her research to make statements on the demographics associated with the computer literate members of each political party.

The last professor presented part of a scientific paper concerning the genetic makeup of Minnesota wild rice.  His paper was presented to the Minnesota court in opposition to the construction of a mine.  He argues that the runoff from the mine would be damaging to the local wildlife who are dependent on the rice, and the Native Americans who harvest the rice as a crop.

Although the three writers didn’t cover topics directly pertaining to our class, I thought it was important to note how they were able to present ideas using many different forms of writing.  The first writer used a narrative style, the second writer wrote a math based book, and the third writer had a scientific paper.  Seeing how authors can use multiple different mediums to express their ideas is something that every aspiring author should do.

Campus Event Journal #1

On Friday, November 5th, Steve Coyne presented his short story, Taken In, at Friday is Writing Day.  The story was a piece of creative non-fiction which concerned Coyne’s travels back to his hometown to do research on his hometown’s founder.  Along the way, he sees a familiar face and chats about his youth.  Over the course of their conversation, Coyne learns the horrible truth behind one of his stories.

One of the themes from this story that ties directly into the course is how women are frequently seen as objects by men in power.  In the story about his youth, Coyne tells of the time that he went skinny dipping in the local pool with some friends from high school.  After the police are called, the group is hauled back to the police station and waits there for his parents to pick him up.  Little does he know that the girls in his group “did what they had to do” in order to get the boys off the hook.

This abuse of power by the police shows just one reason why women are so concerned with not being seen as sexual objects.  The events of this story also show how abuse can be masked behind shame, making it impossible for others to help.  This means that the story highlights the importance of women writers, as they are best equipped to tell stories chronicling the experiences and trials that women face in society.

The Value Of Studying The Classics And English.

One of the most commonly asked questions English majors receive is “Why?”  While the lack of consideration that many people give the subject is insulting, the question itself is certainly one worth engaging.  Why be an English Major?  What value does an English major provide?

The New Yorker’s Adam Gopnik put it succinctly, saying “The reason we need the humanities is because we’re human.  That is enough”.  His argument was prompted by the question of what kind of value teaching English provided.  The rate at which colleges are graduating English majors has been rapidly declining for a while, now, and there is worry that English departments will begin to disappear.

There are two arguments that Gopnik examines: One stating that English majors make better people and another insisting that studying the humanities makes society better.  Gopnik argues that these two things aren’t really true, but the evidence that he uses is dubious at best.

Gopnik first argues that, while the humanities may make a contribution to society, they do not provide the same kind of material value that a more technical profession would provide.  Gopnik is missing the point, however.  The humanities don’t exist as a method to more efficiently provide goods and services to others; rather, they are intended to explore the world from differing perspectives.  Gopnik rebuttals this by saying that Bernard Lewis, a leading scholar on Islam, consulted with Dick Cheney before the Iraq war.  This example is dubious, at best, for a few reasons.  First, it relies on a sample size of one to make a point.  When looking at an entire field of study, a more comprehensive analysis is needed.  Secondly, Bernard Lewis was a poor example to choose from.  Lewis’s studies were so focused, that he was unable to see the nuances of the Arab world.  This defeats the point of the study of the humanities, as the humanities are designed to offer perspective, and that is clearly not what happened in the case of Lewis

Gopnik next argues that the people who study English aren’t necessarily better people.  He points out that “no one was better read than the English upper classes who, a hundred years ago, blundered into the catastrophe of the Great War. (They wrote good poetry about it, the ones who survived anyway.) Victorian factory owners read Dickens, but it didn’t make Victorian factories nicer”.  These things are true, but Gopnik contradicts his himself in his following statement, saying “what made them nicer was people who read Dickens and Mill and then petitioned Parliament”.  The conditions which led to class stratification were not products of education in the humanities, but rather a lack thereof.  In fact, the study of the humanities is what led to a civil uprising rather than a violent one, in the case of the factory labor.

The importance of the humanities should not be understated, but there is debate over what the subjects of study should be.  In particular, is it more valuable to study the classics or a diverse set of literature from people of various backgrounds.  These concerns are addressed in two separate essays, Michelle Smith’s “A Spurr to Abandoning the Literary Canon” and Irving Howe’s “You Should Absolutely, Positively Read the Canon in College”.

Smith’s article concerns University of Sydney poetry professor, Barry Spurr.  In particular, Smith addresses Spurr’s marginalization of the Aborigines native to Australia and other multicultural groups.  Spurr argues that Aboriginal literature isn’t important, because it doesn’t have the same cultural influence as works from the literary canon.  Smith takes the time to point out that the reason that Aboriginal works do not have influence is because people to not study them.  Smith argues that it is important to study a diverse set of texts, otherwise we will become ignorant of other cultures.

On the other hand, Howe, in short, argues that the literary canon is the most important to read.  The crux of Howe’s argument is that the literary canon is the most important, well-written collection of books available, and so every student should read them.  Howe also argues that there are diverse groups in the literary canon, citing examples such as Jane Austin and Emily Dickinson.

Both authors make good points; Smith argues that studying diverse texts is necessary, because it allows a person to see multiple viewpoints, while Howe argues that a reader should read the best texts, regardless of background.  Howe judges a work solely based on its quality, but acknowledges that many extraordinarily talented writers may not have gotten a chance to write based on social circumstances.  This is why Smith’s approach is so important.

Studying English, and the humanities in general, is important because it gives us perspective.  The humanities let us see what it is like to be human from a number of different sources.  When people can acknowledge the brilliance of others, regardless of race, gender, or other factors, opportunities arise for more writers, which is better for the experience of all humanity.

Oct 31 (Part 2)

While I wasn’t able to spend much time in the archives, I was nevertheless astounded by the amount of information available.  Additionally, Tom Munson’s knowledge of the archives and of the many books inside the archives was incredible. I think that making a return trip to the archives would provide me with a wealth of information that I would find useful in my project.

What surprised me the most was the amount of readily available material published by Sioux City authors, especially in regards to books which held their contents in facts. Being able to analyze the history of a place like Sioux City can contribute to my research by creating a setting which enables me to determine what the concerns of the population were.

Despite the fact that my library time was interrupted by a fairly lengthy phone call, I still felt like I accomplished a lot during my time in the library. For one, I was introduced to tremendous new resources in the form of the introduction to Bread Givers and the Abraham Cahan short story “A Ghetto Wedding.” I feel like this supplemental reading will give me further fuel to help develop my paper.

I will be unable to attend the trip to Lincoln with the rest of the class, however, I have set aside library time on both Tuesday and Thursday to work on my paper. Aside from my primary sources, I will be using the library’s database to search for articles about the conditions of people around the turn of the 20th century.

The basic construction of my paper will be as follows. I will start with a brief introduction to the subject matter before introducing my thesis. From there, I will first dive into the contents of the primary texts. I will see how these texts highlight the concerns of different groups of women during a time when women were starting to gain more independence. My third section will be an analysis of secondary sources, seeing how they agree or disagree with the primary sources. The goal in this section is to see whether the concerns present in the fiction match what would logically be a person’s concern given their actual surroundings. My secondary sources are mostly intended to confirm the authenticity of my primary sources. Finally, I will present my findings in a nice, tidy, conclusion.

The works I will be using in my paper include, but are not limited to, the following: Their Eyes Were Watching God, Bread Givers, American Indian Stories, Madame Butterfly, A Japanese Nightingale, and A Ghetto Wedding.

10/30/14 Part One

Today, we will be taking a trip to the Sioux City Public Museum and Archives.  Here, we will do research to gather information for our research papers.  The archives are an important place to gather information, especially about Sioux City.  For our class, I will be using the museum and archives to look at the literature of Sioux City authors around the turn of the 20th century. Specifically, I will be looking at the concerns of authors of different social classes.

There are a few different questions that I’d like to ask Tom Munson.

  1. How can I research the demographics of Sioux City and how they have changed?
  2. Where can I find fiction by Sioux City writers?
  3. What genres (historical fiction, romance, etc.?) should I be looking at?

For my topic, I was going to write about how the concerns of women differed according to social class.  I believe that this is an incredibly important topic because literary recovery works best when you know which groups of people are underrepresented.  This knowledge tells you where you can find some of your best material.

During class today, I’m going to fill out my research proposal and get it turned in.  I’d like to be able to find some works from relatively unknown authors that I could incorporate into my piece.  I have not consulted with a librarian yet, but I will probably end up doing so.  It would be foolish to waste such a valuable resource.

I feel very confident about where I am with my topic so far.  There is plenty of material available for me to look at, but the topic isn’t so broad that it’s completely out of the scope of this research project.  I look forward to visiting Lincoln next week (by the way, I’d like to know what the travel schedule is like) and exploring the archives there.  I know someone who works in the archives, so doing research will go very quickly for me.