Thesis: Two Books to Film Comparison

Pages: 10 (3110 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 3  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Literature  ·  Buy This Paper

¶ … Tie Us Together:

Ethnic Literature and Film in America

Comparison of Two Novels to M. Night Shyamalan's "The Sixth Sense"

The history of ethnic writers in the United States of America is both abundant and diverse. Because of the United States' rich melting pot culture, authors such as Frederick Douglass and Harriett Beecher Stowe have flavored even our earliest literature. African-American literature, including poetry, lyrics, novels, diaries, and narratives, became a crucial genre for the United States that would allow students of later generations to understand the complexities and hardships of slavery. In the modern era, African-American writers such as Toni Morrison and Maya Angelou have astonished readers with their poignant and ethnically flavored novels and poetry.

While African-American writings have been promoted and proclaimed as important and enlightening for decades, Native American literature has only just begun to make a prominent entrance into the United States' fiction scene. For example, Dee Brown's Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee told the harrowing story of Native American replacement efforts in the West. Although Brown was not a Native American himself, the author's association with Native American writers allowed him to view and write about their history both passionately and compassionately. Native American writers, however, have been telling the story for years through their prose and poetry. Taking an approach that weaves sound with meaning and contemporary topics with ancient ones, these writers have begun to influence literature in the United States as well as content -- both literary and historical -- in the classroom. Most recently, another type of ethnic writer, the Hispanic Writer, has soared in popularity among readers and libraries throughout the United States. A variety of web sites concerning libraries and book reviews suggest reading Hispanic literature because of the unique flavor it brings to the literary world. While African-American, Native American, and Hispanic writers have made what is arguably the largest influence on the genre of ethnic American writing in the United States, other ethnic writers such as Asian-American writers and Polish writers, have also made their contribution.

While ethnic writings are interesting and intellectual subjects for admiration and study because of their uniqueness, many scholars have found that ethnic writers are tied by a common theme or set of themes. Barbara J. Saez's 2002 review of Varieties of the Ethnic Experience calls the cannon of ethnic American literature as "a body of writing with an underlying commonality," and the book establishes at least one theme, "inclusion vs. exclusion," or a search for identity, that is common among most ethnic writers (205). This search for identity or inclusion that most ethnic writers undertake as a theme in their works is encompassed by a far greater theme, that of the presence of the past. In ethnic writings, this theme often takes the shape of a personal past or a people's past. The ethnic characters of ethnic American writers' fiction attempt to reconcile their ethnic backgrounds with their contemporary settings. Immersed in the tradition of literary theory, however, these themes often take a different shape -- namely ghosts and hauntings. Characters in novels may be quite literally haunted by ghosts that represent their past, haunted by the memories or faces of deceased characters that represent their past, or simply haunted by a past that still seems to lurk in the present. Whether or not the ghosts are literal or psychological, they often take on a supernatural tone or at least connotation. In fact, Winsbro notes that a " great extent and variety of ethnic works [deal] with empowerment through self-definition in relation to one's beliefs in the supernatural" (10). This theme continues in the contemporary era, adopting another medium -- film -- to exhibit its applicability. In fact, these variations upon a theme are reflected quite powerfully in three works by contemporary authors: M. Night Shyamalan's "The Sixth Sense," Leslie Marmon Silko's Ceremony, and Esmeralda Santiago's America's Dream. In each of these works, characters experience a haunting that is representative of their and often times their culture's past. Through their hauntings, each character is able to reconcile themselves to a major event in their pasts and discover important information about themselves.

True to Winsbro's study suggesting the ethnic writer's obsession with the supernatural, Indian screenwriter M. Night Shyamalan has undertaken quite a few projects that contemplate the role of the supernatural. "Signs" pondered extraterrestrial life; "Lady in the water" used a mythical creature to bring out characters' best qualities; and "The Village" showed how fear of the supernatural can be used to inhibit intellectualism and change. In "The Sixth Sense," however, the theme of a haunting and the presence of the past is most tangibly explored. In this story of a child psychologist's attempt to deal with a monumental event in his life, ghosts and the supernatural are used to embody the theme of a presence of the past. Dr. Malcom Crowe, a celebrated child psychologist, has been severely impacted by a traumatic situation in which a deranged ex-patient breaks into his home, wielding a gun. The patient, Vincent Grey, kills himself in Crowe's home. Crowe, who had been honored earlier that evening for his commendable work with children, is traumatized over the incident and guilt for his inability to treat Grey, now an adult, as a child. The impact of the moment has a profound affect on his life, causing him to push away his wife and live in a sort of a trance. Throughout the film, therefore, Crowe experiences a psychological haunting from Grey in addition to several quite literal hauntings. Upon meeting a boy, Cole Sear, who claims to see ghosts, or "dead people," Crowe uses his interactions with the boy and his ghosts as a sort of self-therapy to overcome the guilt of his past and his inability to help Grey. The ghosts that the two continually deal with are all souls who are similarly haunted by their pasts, manifesting Crowe's own haunting. When Crowe eventually discovers that Cole can really see ghosts and that he is one of those ghosts, having been killed the night Grey entered his room, this discovery allows him to deal with his own haunting and the presence of his past. Having helped Cole overcome his fear of the ghosts and learning how to help each ghost overcome their own hauntings brought on by the past, Crowe can accept the fact that he is not responsible for Grey, is dead, and loves his wife. After a sentimental scene in which Crowe talks to his wife although she cannot hear him, Crowe realizes that he is no longer haunted or tethered to earth by his past.

Although Crowe's encounter with literal ghosts symbolized his own haunting and the presence of the past in his life, Native American writer Leslie Marmon Silko's main character, Tayo, is haunted both by his past and by characters from his past in her novel Ceremony. Like Crowe, Tayo must deal with a traumatic event in his life, struggling to establish how this event changes his identity and where he fits into society. Although M. Night Shyamalan's "The Sixth Sense" clearly dealt with the issue of exclusion and inclusion as part of Crowe's haunting by his past -- the character wanders throughout the whole movie between the land of the living and the land of the dead unable to fit in -- Silko's novel deals with this concept from a more ethnic perspective. Most importantly, Tayo, who is both white and Native American, struggles to determine whether he fits into the world of the Native Americans or the world of the white people. Like Crowe, he wanders between two worlds, haunted by the images not only of his past, but also of his ancestors' pasts, both white and Native American. Although Tayo experiences this wandering since his childhood, he is similarly haunted by an event in his own life that occurred quite recently to the time frame of the novel. Tayo's experience in World War II is the traumatic and tragic event that continues to haunt him throughout the novel. His uncle Josiah's death, cousin Rocky's death, and his own injury and experience in the war combine to allow him to come back to his village in confusion and mental anguish. Similarly, Tayo is wracked with guilt over a desperate prayer he made to stop the rain during his war experience. With his home facing a severe drought, Tayo is convinced that he caused the condition with his prayer. This guilt, coupled with the fact that he is haunted psychologically by his past experiences in the war and the death of his uncle and cousin, causes Tayo to react with even more uncertainty toward his family, where he fears he does not belong because of his white father.

Although "The Sixth Sense" was written by an Indian man and features a middle-age, white male as the main character and Ceremony was penned by prominent Native American writer Leslie Marmon Silko, both authors' characters, plots, and… [END OF PREVIEW]

Nationalism in Movies Film as a Form Movie Review


Movies and Methods: Volume I - Summary Term Paper


Film Noir Term Paper


Film Theory Essay


What Was Wrong in Catwoman the Movie? Term Paper


View 1,000+ other related papers  >>

Cite This Thesis:

APA Format

Two Books to Film Comparison.  (2008, July 10).  Retrieved November 13, 2019, from https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/two-books-film-comparison/538883

MLA Format

"Two Books to Film Comparison."  10 July 2008.  Web.  13 November 2019. <https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/two-books-film-comparison/538883>.

Chicago Format

"Two Books to Film Comparison."  Essaytown.com.  July 10, 2008.  Accessed November 13, 2019.
https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/two-books-film-comparison/538883.