Cultures in Conflict and Change Essay

Pages: 8 (3170 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 3  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Family and Marriage

SAMPLE EXCERPT . . .
Her new husband has a free hand, but the other one clasps hers like an "iron gate" (3) and while he is not frigid, he is stern and distant and this scares her, almost overwhelming the hope she can escape her past. It is his peace not hers that the marriage vows promise and he seems at peace; monumental, like Lincoln freeing her to a new and uncertain future, which will no longer be "backward," "ignorant" and "wrong" (3). He is right but she does not share his peace, but actually the opposite.

The iron gate of this peace of his will be permanent, but she is already trapped, ironically by the religion that binds them at the very moment she is thinking these wild thoughts, but which separates him from her and her from everything she has known. The violent image of a woman in wedding regalia slapping a preacher off the porch while he marries her illustrates how frantic she feels, considering all these thoughts run through her mind in the time it takes for the man in black to read the magic words that will send her from one rat cage to another. These words are bars in a cage that has prevented her from living a real life like other women but they are not removed, only changed, into what her husband wants, which is better than what she has known, but perhaps as difficult in a different way. She at least has something with elements of love where before there was only emptiness, but this will take work on both their parts. He will be the one who speaks. She will be free, of work and relations she has outgrown, which have worn her out to the degree she thinks her new husband should marry her sister.

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This analytical filter is useful but has revealed enough to demonstrate the themes underlying these conflicts, using the lines of the wedding vows and the imagistic thoughts these words provoke. No one knows a reason why, and if they do, they aren't saying. Her ancestors can't explain, because they are dead or part of what she longs to leave behind. She and her new husband are together, but he will get the last word, in a binary, colorless world where her new daughters will probably not wear green until they leave home. She will escape one work for another which will be a respite and a burden; different but familiar at the same time.

Essay on Cultures in Conflict & Change Assignment

These thoughts are wild but balanced: birth and death; familiar and new; tired yet invigorated; optimistic and unsure. She has known many black cultures, from the sweatshops of rustic Mississippi, personified to caricature in her fur-trapping father, to 'polite' society, vicariously at least through an emasculated prior husband and a son who came back from the Northeast different than when he left. She has not yet explored her new husband's culture, but worries she will find it too harsh. Images of burning cinders, and the words "Panther" and "Burn" (1) which is the name of her home, but which take on new meaning in the context of South Side Chicago, describe the era when poor southern blacks descended on the northern cities in search of work, met prejudice and discrimination, and became radical Muslims like her new husband. He deigns to rescue her from disrespectability but she must leave this backward, superstitious, "ignorant" (3) hinterland behind forever. These are the only options if she would escape a life of unending drudgery and stagnation that goes back to an original image of cotton. She trades the chains of the sewing machine, an intermediate stage between the picking of cotton and freedom, which she can not yet obtain, for the "handcuffs" (1) of an austere and denigrating religion she does not believe. Her husband does not look back but she can not help but worry that may be a loss. These questions faced the many various black cultures as they dealt with change and conflict in the turbulent era Walker conjured up "Roselily" to explore.

It would be easy to conclude that the men in "A Woman On A Roof" resent an enigmatic sumbather for not conforming to their expectations, which the plot reveals without much analysis. This would be correct but would not explain how or why.

The workmen Harry, Stanley and Tom react differently to the other people in the story, and their behaviors change over the course of events. The men are not used to working in the unusually high temperatures of an early summer heat wave: A random natural event has put stress on everyone through no fault of any particular character. This is part but not all of their issue. The men could see across "several acres" of roof (1), across which people come out to take the sun. Most burn in the heat, which the workmen cannot tolerate either, except for one who browns faster than everyone else. She also has dark hair, which may all be an indication she is Latina, although her ethnicity is not the major emphasis of the workers' reproach. They are more affronted by other powers she embodies.

Harry is the oldest and the boss of their small crew. Lessing describes Harry as mostly a tolerant, affable sort of fatherly chap with a streak of the trickster; gently mocking, providing commentary on the younger men's actions, concerned primarily with the work they need to accomplish. Harry provides both the overall direction and moral compass from which the other two depart. To him the special woman is initially "small things" (1) and he becomes irritated when the other two waste work time fussing over her. While he is included in one description as "resentful," that is largely because of "her ease in this punishing sun" (4).

Harry allows himself to respond to the tanning woman's "indifference" (2) but only briefly, and then he regains his own mostly indifferent composure. He eventually asks, "What harm's she doing?" (3) which at least recognizes her ability of and right to self-direction. This is slightly ironic given modern cultural stereotypes where youth is usually more tolerant and age conservative. He weakly intercedes in various small ways, trying to lie and tell the others she isn't there, or find them work out of the view of their obsession. He tries to defray the situation with mock concern for her safety on the ladder (3) or call off the whole job on two occasions because of the heat. Finally Harry draws the line, "commanding" (5) Stanley to stand down and abandon his histrionics over the invincible woman. Calling off work for this reason leaves him annoyed, and so he blames the heat for her triumph (5).

The youngest of the three stooges, Tom, fabricates a sentimental fantasy entirely from whole cloth, then descends into "[r]esentment" and "hatred" (6) when its object has the audacity to not care a whit. His character develops for the worse, moving closer to Stanley than to Harry, whom he originally looked toward for guidance and example. Lessing describes how his infatuation makes Tom imagine he is special, inventing all sorts of secret innuendo and unspoken communication always with himself as the object of the woman's encouragement. Even interactions between third parties Stanley and Mrs. Pritchett relate to Tom's imaginary relationship with his sunbather. He imagines they are speaking a secret language when she in fact simply wants to sunbathe unmolested. The truth is he is not special; he is nothing at all. He sees her as a sexual object like the ones portrayed in the media, but this does not apply to all women, as he notices Stanley treats the woman watering her flowers differently.

Stanley is the worst behaved, affronted that the woman won't obey his imagined authority, which ultimately drives him to apoplexy. He refers to women consistently by who owns them or not, particularly his own wife. He ultimately has to resort to appeal to higher authority than his own, twice, when the sunbather fails to recognize him. Finally he wishes for rain, effectively asking God to defeat her at last, because for him this is a power struggle, where she can take the heat from which he must protect himself. Stanley can tolerate women if they stay within roles he is comfortable with, even trading banter and flirting when the relationships are safely structured, although this puts him at odds with his fellows for different reasons germane to their characters rather than his.

The tanning woman gets far less ink speaking for herself compared to how many words Lessing gives her as the workmen's object. She is not the only person enjoying the heat wave on the London rooftops, but changes her location… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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