Thesis: Nonfiction Is a Particularly Fertile Genre

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Nonfiction is a particularly fertile genre of prose for the writer. Not only is copious material available for the focus of such stories, but the author is also free to choose from a great variety of approaches, which is not often the case with genre such as fiction or poetry. Indeed, the author can choose to take a creative, emotional approach to such writing, as in the case of the personal essay, or a more emotionally distant point-of-view, such as journalism. Both Langston Hughes and Andrew Lam take the former approach to relate to the reader a particular element from their own lives. The strongly emotional and somewhat tragic background of each story makes the former approach appropriate in both cases.

Salvation" by Langston Hughes

Hughes uses a variety of techniques in order to demonstrate the irony of the title. At the end, the story reveals that his "salvation" was really no salvation from "sin" in the conventional sense, but rather from a true faith in the mysticism of Christianity. From the very first line of the piece, the reader is aware that a juxtaposition is going to be used to demonstrate an irony. Hughes opens with "I was saved from sin when I was going on thirteen," and follows this statement directly with "But not really saved." (Hughes, p. 310).

The second paragraph demonstrates the building of excitement in young Langston's heart by means of three successive exclamations. This demonstrates not only the boy's excitement at the prospect of being "saved" and seeing Jesus, but also the fact of the sentence following these exclamations, which is a simple statement of faith: "She said you could see and hear and feel Jesus in your soul. I believed her." (Hughes, p. 310). The boy is innocent and therefore not only believes every word his elders say, but also believes them in a very literal sense.

When the disappointment occurs at the end of the story, it is more than that for the author. It is also the end of a certain innocence, as well as the end of his childlike faith. The evidence of untruth is simply too strong for a young boy's faith to survive. The boy has reached a new form of maturity that sets him apart not only from his peers, but also from the rest of the congregation.

The theme of the story is then one of religious juxtaposition. The author has effectively lost his faith by the disappointment of his anticipation. He is unable to believe in any of the religious "truths" taught to him by the evidence of self-deception that is embodied in the second-last boy to be "saved," Westley (Hughes, p. 311). Westley is evidently not moved by some spiritual vision to be saved, but rather by boredom. Hughes is moved by embarrassment and the passage of time. This breaks his heart, but he is unable to articulate his true emotions. The rest of the believers then continue in their self-deception, but Langston's tears during the night following the event demonstrates that he cannot engage in such self-deception.

The aunt however remains unchanged, and is indeed unable to understand anything other than self-deception, as evidenced by what she told her husband: "She woke up and told my uncle I was crying because the Holy Ghost had come into my life, and because I had seen Jesus."

To demonstrate the extreme sense of separation between the boy and the rest of the congregation, the author also uses a juxtaposition of emotion. The congregation overflows with passionate joy when Langston finally stands up to joint he rest of the young people. Langston on the other hand feels nothing of this. Instead, the extremity of his grief later manifests itself in his late-night tears. This grief is symbolically anticipated by the image of the "mourners'" bench at the front of the church. This symbolizes the boy's final act of mourning the "death" of his childlike innocence and belief. For him, there is no longer a sense of wonder or mystery in religion. Instead, it has been revealed simply as an act of collective self-deception and well-meaning lying, of which he was too saddened to take part in anymore.

A personally found the story very sad, but also true. As a child grows, the belief in mystery and possibility is slowly replaced by a more realistic view of things. While the theme of the story relates mainly to religion, I believe that it also relates to the theme of life and growth in general. Life is a process of growth, during which the human being gains experiences and forms beliefs around those experiences. The inexperienced Hughes believed without question that his aunt's words are true: he is going to see Jesus and experience a wonderful surge of joy. His actual experience however proves to be the opposite, resulting in a modified belief: "...I didn't believe there was a Jesus anymore, since he didn't come to help me." (Hughes, p. 311) the belief is based upon the evidence of experience.

Ironically, the young Hughes believes that he is the deceiver. He believes that he is the deceiver, while the basic self-deception of the rest of the church is still hidden from his young mind. This makes the irony all the more poignant.

Who Will Light Incense When Mother's Gone?" By Andrew Lam

Like Hughes, Lam also addresses the tragedy of separation through growth. His theme revolves around the effect of immigration and the new environment upon traditions, beliefs, and cultural paradigms. In order to attain this effect, Lam's focus is upon the symbolic function of himself, as opposed to his Vietnamese mother. The tragedy of Lam's Americanization is exemplified in the title of the piece: "Who Will Light the Incense When Mother's Gone?" At the end, the author comes to the conclusion that the answer is probably "nobody."

This tragedy of separation is symbolically represented by the living room bookcase in Lam's parental home. The ancestral altar on the top shelf is symbolic of Lam's mother and her traditional practices. She is unaffected, and "above" American influence, like the altar is physically located above the symbols of her children's Americanization: "...on the shelves below stand my older siblings' engineering and business degrees, my own degree in biochemistry, our combined sports trophies and... my journalism awards." (Lam, p. 1,037).

This symbol is carried by various juxtapositions between Vietnamese and American life mainly via the contrasting values adhered to by Lam and his mother. While Lam addresses one instance of conflict between his teenaged self and his mother, relating to the language issue. While they reconcile, it is clear that there is an irreconcilable sense of separation between Lam and his mother. Throughout the piece, Lam indicates his own sense of separation when taking part in rituals only to please his mother.

The story climaxes at the end, with the author acknowledging the tragedy of his separation from his home country, its culture and its traditions. It is more than a difference in culture. It is a loss of all that was beautiful in the home culture in favor of individual, Americanized ambition. He recognizes that the loss of his mother and all she symbolizes may mean the final separation between himself and his origins: "I fear she'll leave me stranded in America, becoming more American than I expected, a lonely cowboy cursed with amnesia." (Lam, p. 1,037)

Personally, I believe that the world is a richer place for its diversity. The real tragedy in Lam's story is both the fact of the increased Americanization of foreign immigrants and the fact that the author is aware of this but unable to do anything about it. It is as if he is part of an inevitable process that is larger than himself, and he is powerless to stop it.

Globalization exacerbates this phenomenon. The global business world and the Internet not only opens communication channels and the opportunity to learn about a diversity of cultures, but also encourages increased homogeneity on the basis of language. As a teenaged Andrew Lam points out to his mother, there is little point in using a language that one does not need for general communication. At its basis, I believe Lam's piece is one of deep nostalgia for a way of life that he recognizes as beautiful, but also as disappearing.

The Nature of Nonfiction

Both Hughes's and Lam's works can be classified as nonfiction on the basis of the truthfulness of the events depicted. In "Salvation," the first person narrator uses his own name, "Langston," to provide the reader with a sense of actuality. Lam's essay refers to his own achievements and career to do the same. These elements identify both works as mainly factual.

I believe that imagination is indeed required for both reading and writing nonfiction, particularly of the creative kind. Indeed, the very phrase, "creative nonfiction," indicates the necessity of this faculty.

In writing nonfiction, the author requires creativity to write an… [END OF PREVIEW]

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