Essay: Play? We're Heading Down to the Lake

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¶ … play? We're heading down to the lake."

"Nah."

"Are you the new boy?"

"I guess so."

"Don't talk much, do you?" The dark-skinned young boy sitting on the step warily regarded the white and the black child on the other side of the fence. The day was warm, and he would have liked to have gone swimming. However, he felt that there was something suspicious about the relationship of the two, and he held back.

The black and the white boy were tempted to leave, but the laziness of the summer day and the lack of better things to do prompted them to ask: "where are you from? Are you going to go to school here?" The boy on the fence had a slight northern accent that nearly a year in the quasi-southern state of Maryland had not worn down.

"You'll go to my school," said the black child.

"Once my father has his way, we'll all go to the same school," said the white boy. "My father writes for the R-," he said, naming the town's most prominent left-leaning newspaper. "He says everyone should go to the same school."

"Your father's a writer?" asked the boy on the step, showing some interest. The whole scenario seemed implausible -- the multiracial friends, the father who was a writer. He was intrigued, and overcame his initial reservations and followed the pair as they walked.

Exercise 4.2B

Both Zora Neale Hurston and Benjamin Franklin originated from marginalized groups: Hurston was an African-American, born during an age when members of her race were social outcasts in white society. Franklin was born poor, and was subject to mistreatment by his brother as an indentured servant. Both Hurston and Franklin were talented individuals who became successful with hard work and also the aid of strangers. In their autobiographies they present themselves as extraordinary people even before they achieved success. Franklin said he tried to achieve a state of moral perfection at a young age and even refused free passage when coming to his new home city, determined not to look poor. Hurston had already read her school reader cover-to-cover as a young girl because of her verbal alacrity.

Hurston and Franklin were both 'self-made' people, but Hurston had to conceal more of her true self to be able to obtain the ability to study and to leave her small, segregated Florida town. Hurston happily received her gifts of books and better clothes, but she had a critical eye upon the lessons taught to her by her elders, such as the lessons of the Bible she was supposed to learn by heart. She preferred the Old Testament's justice to the new. Franklin, in contrast, eagerly embraced the values of his day. In contrast to Hurston's slightly ironic description of her redemption, Franklin methodically created a program of self-improvement, eagerly embracing the virtues of his age -- and attempting to put them into action every day.

Exercise 4.3B

The young college graduate sat at his cubicle. Near him were the remains of the Dunkin' Donuts breakfast he bought earlier in the morning: a half-eaten chocolate doughnut and a vat of milky, icy coffee with a straw stuck in it. His computer was already humming at 8am. For the next several hours he would input data into the computer, long spreadsheets of numbers, while the computer glowed. He was pale and slightly overweight, even though he looked young. His cubicle had a few photographs tacked to its corkboard: a picture of his girlfriend and himself, looking slim and tan, as they held hands, poised before the football field during the last game they attended before graduating from college. His sweatshirt in the picture said Abercrombie and Fitch. He couldn't really afford the sweatshirt at the time. The banner over the field proclaimed Tufts University, an expensive private school for which he had to take out many loans. However, he had never thought much about paying them back. He always assumed he'd get a great job after college. That was how things were supposed to work.

He would frequently check his cellphone during breaks from his work, to scan results of last night's sports scores and silly news websites like The Onion because he was blocked from accessing those websites from his work computer. He also looked at the clock often. He counted the hours to lunch, even though he wasn't hungry. Then, after lunch, he would count the hours until he could come home to his small apartment, which he shared with his girlfriend and her cat.

He looked at the small mirror in his cubicle. He could already see that he was losing some of his hair, but he still had some of his adolescent acne. His skin looked greasy and unpleasant from the lack of daily sunlight, day after day.

Exercise 4.4B

Dear Ms. Moore:

"We do not admire what we cannot understand." In your poem "Poetry," I believe you are suggesting that Poetry helps us understand things in the world that seem alien to us, but really are not. The animal world, for example, seems strange and removed because the way that animals live is so different from our own. Similarly, people from other cultures and traditions can also seem strange because we only look at the externals of their world. Poetry forces us to turn inside. It also forces us to make connections between the known and the unknown through metaphors, similes, and the deployment of other rhetorical tropes. While observing the wild horse rolling in the distance, we begin to see shadows of ourselves -- our own wildness and inability to be tamed. Because I read poetry, I can hear my desire for a more exciting life in the chug-chug of my neighbor's motorcycle, even though I do not ride one.

In poetry, we are also able to elevate the mundane aspects of our life to a higher art. Simply making a meal can have tremendous significance, as every aspect of the dinner is connected to some higher substance and purpose. While making buttered toast for myself, I can see beyond this simple comfort food and remember how my mother used to make it for me when I was young, with tea, when I was sick, and see how she tried to offer me something of herself that cannot be put into words.

Exercise 4.5B

One of the most startling aspects of the events chronicled in The Crucible is their swiftness. The apparently homogeneous community of Salem is shattered. The community dissolves. Distrust, suspicion, and hatred are openly expressed. Eventually murder through the judicial system becomes rife. However, this is because the accusations of witchcraft laid bare tensions that had been simmering barely beneath the surface of Salem. There were class tensions between poorer and wealthier members; racial tensions between slaves and the white members of the community; sexual tensions created by the repressive nature of society, and also fears of the power of older, unattached women.

All communities are fragile to some degree. There is always diversity within every community, and diversity often breeds jealousy. This is often seen in high school. When a member of the group is ostracized, all of the 'friends of friends' turn against that person as well. They are afraid of being cast out, and also the object of derision is seldom looked on as a human being. Instead the outcast becomes a scapegoat, a figure of fun, and also a representation of what others fear of becoming. Teenage egos are fragile and just like the teens of Salem, they are quick to blame others rather than taking responsibility for their own action. A girl's boyfriend cheats on her, and like Abigail she turns her hatred against the 'other woman' rather than against him. And the availability of the Internet makes it even easier to exert a vendetta with words, innuendos, and half-truths. Starting rumors on Facebook make it easy to defame someone's reputation as quickly as it was easy to do so in the small, paranoid community of Salem.

Exercise 4.6B

One of the most notable differences between the real Salem trials and the trials, as chronicled by Arthur Miller is the age of the girls. Miller admits he did this for dramatic effect, but the reality of the history behind The Crucible demonstrates that sexual jealousy was not likely the primary motivation for the accusers. In fact, the two lead 'possessed girls' were prepubescent: 9-year-old Elizabeth Parris, the daughter of Reverend Samuel Parris, and his niece, 11-year-old Abigail Williams. However, the belief system of the Puritans in honesty evident in Miller seems to be supported by the historical evidence: "Ultimately, more than 150 'witches' were taken into custody; by late September 1692, 20 men and women had been put to death, and five more accused had died in jail. None of the executed confessed to witchcraft. Such a confession would have surely spared their lives, but, they believed, condemned their souls" ("Secrets of… [END OF PREVIEW]

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