The Perception of Time

The narrative technique in Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five is different to many other books we have read in English class. The technique involves manipulation of the structure and organization to bring focus to the content. This puzzles the reader but also induces them to reflect deeper on the progression of the plot and how it connects with the content in the novel. The questions that occurred to me while reading involve how does the way we perceive time affect how we live? As well as how should we perceive time? We can explore the narrative technique of this book and how it influences the reader by comparing it to novels such as The Color Purple and The Awakening.

The structure and organization of the plot directly correlates with the content of the novel which encourages the reader to think about the concept of time. Vonnegut uses a mixture of truth and fiction presented in a non-linear organization to write this novel. This puzzles the reader because the structure is not the cliche progression taught in schools; conflict, rising action, climax, falling action and resolution. Slaughterhouse- Five however, is not this black and white. Events are shared in a non-chronological order and events skip from one to the next without any background information. I found this technique at first to be confusing but later caused me to reflect and connect more deeply with the content of the book.  

As we delved into this book, we learned about the Tralfamadorian way of life. Once this concept was explained I realized how directly this philosophy, and the narrative technique employed by Vonnegut were connected. For example, Tralfamadorian books are structured like:

“There is no beginning, no middle, no end, no suspense, no moral, no causes, no effects. What we love in our books are the depths of many marvellous moments seen all at one time” (p.88).  

This description instantly clicked with how the organization of SlaughterHouse-Five was presented. Vonnegut utilizes this philosophy in presenting the plot of Billy Pilgrim. He uses the idea that Billy can become “unstuck” in time to travel to the past or future.  The effect of this technique allows the reader to feel as though all the moments in the book are presented simultaneously which connects the plot and the organization of this novel. Now, when presented with this new philosophy of life the reader is no longer puzzled but further intrigued allowing them to think deeper. 

The narrative technique in Slaughterhouse-Five invites the reader to inquire about the perception of time and how this perception of time influences how one lives? By comparing Billy and humanity today this question can be discussed. The best way to describe the difference between the Tralfamadorian philosophy of time and humans’ perception of time is by using the metaphor a Tralfamadorian guide uses to tell his tour about earthlings perception of time:

“The guide invited the crowd to imagine that they were looking across a desert at a mountain range on a day that was twinkling bright and clear. They could look at a peak or a bird or a cloud, at a stone right in front of them, or even down into a canyon behind them. But among them was a poor earthling, and his head was encased in a steel sphere which he could never take off. There was only one eye hole through which he could look, and welded to that eyehole was a six feet pipe” (p.115).  

The idea that humans can only experience or believe that a single moment in time exists affects our beliefs about death and freewill which shapes how we live life. For example, when Billy thinks about death it’s not something that he mourns because he has adapted to this new philosophy: 

“The most important thing that I learned on Tralfamadore is that when a person dies, he only appears to die. He is still very much alive in the past, so it is very silly for people to cry at his funeral” (pp.26-27). 

When a person dies the thought process of Billy is “so it goes”. There is no attachment to a person when they are lost and no fear of dying.  This is very different from how humans today perceive death; we tend to be more upset and mourn deeply. We also tend to live in fear of death. In regard to how perception of time can affect how people live; mortality is a less taboo topic for Billy, making him have a more relaxed life and attitude towards death. 

Another area where one’s perception of time can shape is their belief in fate vs freewill. Using the same comparison, Billy believes in fate and adapts the philosophy that there is no such thing as freewill.  Billy believes he cannot change or influence the future because in his mind all moments are happening at the same time. This mindset eliminates the idea of free will as the Tralfamadorians say: 

“Only on earth is there any talk of freewill” (p.86). 

Due to this mindset Billy lives his life in a more peculiar way than anyone would live their life in our society. For example, in the war he is not interested in combat but has a more passive behaviour and attitude. Perception of time can change attitudes toward other time dependent variables such as death and free will thus affecting one’s daily routines. The second question that occurs from this idea is how should we perceive time? There is no right answer to this question but I think humans today can adopt one concept from Tralfamadore which is to make life more enjoyable by: “Ignore the awful times and concentrate on the good ones” (p.117).

In class we have read many books with different narrative techniques.  When comparing Slaughterhouse-Five to other books we have read such as The Color Purple by Alice Walker and The Awakening by Kate Chopin, there are similarities and differences. The main difference between Slaughterhouse-Five and these two books are the structure and organization. Slaughterhouse-Five is organized in a nonlinear format which helps the reader dig deeper into the concept of the book whereas The Color Purple and The Awakening are organized chronologically. The effect of the nonlinear plot as discussed earlier makes the reader reflect more on the directly linked content. Whereas the linear plot allows the characters to show development which, in The Colour Purple and The Awakening, is crucial to the progression of the plot.   

Another difference between Slaughterhouse-Five and The Color Purple is the point of view the book is set in. Alice Walker writes as letters from Celie to God or her sister Nettie. In Vonnegut’s novel the narrator is not Billy, but we can assume Vonnegut himself as he interjects a few times. The effect of the letter format versus a narrator is that the reader gets deeper insight into Celie’s feelings than Billy. Having the insight into Celie’s thoughts that she only meant for God or Nettie means we get to see her raw emotions. This personal level with Celie makes the connection with her and the reader more personal. It is easier for the reader to relate with Celie because of this than Billy. 

A similarity between the narrative techniques in Slaughterhouse-Five and The Awakening is the use of settings.  Both novels use two main settings to help compare and contrast ideas. In Slaughterhouse-Five the two main settings are Tralfamadore and WWII in Germany. Vonnegut’s use of these two drastically different settings reinforces the ideas of this anti-war book. Utilizing two opposite settings,  influences the reader to compare the two settings.The effect this produces is that the reader fully understands Vonnegut’s point of portraying how unnecessary and awful war is. Kate Chopin also uses two opposite settings to further her point of society’s restrictive roles for women. The novel’s main setting is on a Grand Isle which is a beautiful location next to the ocean. This is where Edna felt the freest and the setting helps portray freedom and independence. The other setting is Edna’s house in New Orleans which conveys more of a rigid busy feeling here Edna struggles to find herself. This setting helps mimic society’s restrictions for women. Chopin uses the two settings to reinforce the idea of Edna’s entrapment by society.  

Overall, each book has a variety of narrative techniques but what I really noticed is how each technique is used to direct the reader to reflect on the themes and questions raised by the novel. 



Identity and Belonging in The Color Purple

The Color Purple written by Alice Walker raised questions involving the concepts of identity, belonging and purpose. One of the many recurring themes was the questioning of identity, who we are. This theme opened the door to other questions such as where do we belong?  The question who are we is a daunting question, but there are many obvious answers for example, we are human, babies, children, adults, males, females, Canadians, Americans, students, athletes etc. The not so obvious question beyond this is who are we and in relation where do we belong? In The Color Purple Walker utilizes the feelings, experiences and development of  characters from a variety of backgrounds to question the concepts of identity and belonging.

 The first example of this is seen with Samuel and Nettie’s experience with the Olinka’s in Africa. Samuel and Nettie travelled to Africa as missionaries. Although Samuel identifies as an African American he has trouble fitting in with the Olinka’s. The natives viewed the missionaries as outsiders and showed their indifference to them on multiple occasions. Such as when Nettie is told by a tribal member that the Olinka’s do not need to listen to the missionaries because most of them will die anyway. Samuel struggles with his feeling of belonging when he realizes the Olinka’s do not appreciate his presence. He states 

 “The Africans don’t even see us. They don’t even recognize us as brothers and sisters they sold. Why don’t you speak our language? They ask. Why can’t you remember the old ways? Why aren’t you happy in America if everyone drives motorcars” (p.235).  

Walker’s use of Samuels feelings realizing he is not accepted as a true part of the Olinka tribe after many years shows the theme of identity vs belonging. The effect of reading this passage entices the reader to question even though our identity places us in certain categories does it mean we belong there? Samuel later finds his identity and belonging with Nettie when they marry and he spends his life with her. 

The second example of The Color Purple challenging the idea of identity is through the character of Tashi. She was born and raised with the Olinka tribe. She grows up learning that girls only need to learn wife responsibilities and that girls do not go to school. This is very different than the beliefs in America. She goes through the women scarification ceremony which is also uncommon in America but truly places her identity as Olinka. When Adam asks to marry her she refuses;

“Because of the scarification marks on her cheeks, Americans would look down on her as a savage, and shun her and whatever children her and Adam might have”(p.276). 

Walker uses Tashi’s experiences as an Olinka person and feelings towards America to show her conflict with identifying with the Olinka’s and not belonging in America. Adam’s response to this is joining Tashi and completing an Olinka sacrificial ceremony to resemble the same scars on his face as well as saying to Tashi that she would have  

“ A country, people, parents, a sister, husband, brother and lover and that whatever befell her in America  would also be his own choice and his own lot” (p.277). 

Adam saying this as well as joining in on Tashi’s culture makes her feel accepted and happy to go to America with him.  The effect of Adam’s feelings and actions towards Tashi makes the reader focus on Tashi’s and Adam’s strong bond. In turn questioning if belonging can be defined as a person and not a place in society?

The third and main example of struggle with identity and belonging is Celie’s character. In Celie’s early life her identity was masked by submission and the overshadowing of her abusers like Albert and Alfonso. She was lost and her feelings were suppressed. Walker uses Celie addressing her letters to God in the beginning of the novel to show that she only identifies with God and struggles with feeling alone. Through the progression of the novel Celie’s true identity and feelings begin to show. She starts feeling emotions such as anger at Albert or love for Shug.

“Before I knew it tears met under my chin. And I’m confuse”(p.72). 

Walker’s use of Celie expressing emotions for Shug for the first time in the novel shows the reader that Celie finally discovers a different part of her identity by exploring her sexualilty. Her letters start to be addressed to Nettie instead of God the effect of this shows Celie’s belief of her and Nettie belonging together.  When Celie receives Alfonso’s house she describes it to Nettie in a letter as

“A house big enough for us and our children, for your husband and Shug” (p.244).

expressing her feeling of want to be with Nettie and Shug.  Thus allowing the reader to realize even though in the past Ceile has identified as submissive with no emotion she does not anymore. Celie realizes she is better than a toxic relationship with a man like Alfonso or Albert. Walker’s uses Celie’s feelings and bonds show that a sense of belonging is not only determined by one’s past identity but also by those who genuinely accept us and love us.

Personally the belief that our identity does not define where we belong is something that resonates with me. As a person who is a dual citizenship holder as well as physically portrays a different nationality then both those citizenships I have a lot of identities. This has me questioning where I belong. I don’t fully fit in with Canadians because I appear different. I don’t fully fit in with my grandparents and extended family because I don’t speak the native tongue or practice the religion.  This makes me an outsider to both groups similarly to how Samuel felt in Olinka’s or how Tashi feels about Americans.  The one thing I do have is the people who I am surrounded by who support me, my friends and family. The people that I have shared similar experiences with and who I bond with. They are where I truly belong.

Who we are and where we belong, although closely related, are not solely dependent on each other. This concept leads to the second philosophical question brought up by this novel: what is the purpose of life?  This question can open up all new conversations and perspectives but I think it’s crucial to mention Albert’s answer to  this question in the novel. When asked what our purpose is by Celie, Albert responds by saying;

“I think us here to wonder, myself. To wonder. To ask. And that in wondering bout the big things and asking bout the big things, you learn about the little ones, almost by accident. But you never know nothing more about the big things than you start out with. The more I wonder, the more I love” (p.281).

Celie responds to this by saying “And people start to love you back, I bet” (p.281). This again ties in theme of belonging with those who you love and those who love you. Overall, Walker uses the characters in The Colour Purple to compare and contrast the themes of identity and belonging. Through the characterization of feelings and experiences the reader discovers that identity is not always shaped by who you are or where you come from but by those that love you.

For Samuel this is Nettie, for Tashi this is Adam, as for Celie she belongs with Shug regardless of their identity in the past, present or future. 

The Awakening PR

The Awakening by Kate Chopin is a book that could be labeled as a “feminist classic”. The main character Edna Pontellier experiences many feelings and struggles that women face in society. This makes her very relatable to many people including myself. My connection to Edna puzzled me because although we had many similarities Edna’s character was one I was annoyed by. Her actions of breaking gender roles and not conforming to society’s expectations are seen as revolutionary yet I still found her character rather irritable.This was a confusing feeling because I see myself in Edna and yet I don’t like her. This raised many questions and thoughts.

Edna Pontellier’s disregard for her responsibilities to her husband, children and society make her the perfect feminist. Edna feels trapped by the traditional roles and expectations placed upon her by society so she acts on her feelings. Her journey of self discovery leads her to independence from her husband. This is a scandalous act for her time yet she chooses to do what she wants and not fit into the box society made for her. She stops conforming to society’s ideals of a woman by disregarding her mother responsibilities. Instead she prioritizes her own happiness by painting. Her awakening leads her to questioning patriarchal norms. For example she is disgusted by the idea of marriage which was quintessential to a woman’s life in that era. Her actions slowly unfold her awakening and she decides to leave her husband and children which goes against societal expectations for a woman to prioritize her family above all else. 

While all these actions make Edna a prime example of a feminist I still found her unlikeable. This thought was hard to wrap around at first. I was confused how as a woman who has struggled through similar experiences as Edna I could not like her? Does it make me a hypocrite or a bad person? For a long time I wondered what about Edna really made me dislike her. This feeling was like a piece of food stuck in your teeth that you could not get out. I later realized that the reason I dislike Edna is because she is the version of myself I wish to be. As previously stated Edna is the perfect representation of feminism and that’s what I aspire to be. My dislike for Edna is rooted from my envy for her ability to act on her impulses. I am jealous of the way she can disregard what is expected of her and just be who she wants to be. I wish to be able to not care about the standards set by men in today’s society and just be who I want to be. I’m spiteful that Edna got to let go of her responsibilities. I want to swim in my own sea.

Pygmalion PR

“Pygmalion” written by George Bernard Shaw is a book based off the Ancient Greek myth about the artist who fell in love with his own sculpture. While reading this play and watching the movie adaptation I often found myself comparing the main antagonist Henry Higgins to Torvald Helmer in “A Dolls House” written by Henrick Ibsen. This comparison brought up many questions such as How do men treat women in society?  These questions and the thoughts they provoked caused me to think about my own place in society and my own feelings about the gender war.

Torvald Helmer and Henry Higgins are men that have many of the same qualities. The first similarity is their own superiority complex, they both believe that men are far above the likes of women. For example, in “A Dolls House” Torvald does not trust Nora with any business because he believes her to be incapable.  An example of this is when he says,

“I would not be a true man if your feminine helplessness did not make you doubly attractive in my eyes” (p.95).

Similarly, Henry also sees women as inferior to men, for example when he says,

“women might as well be blocks of wood” (p.28)

objectifying Eliza. The second comparison is how they addressed their female companions. Henry always called Eliza by her first name even though the proper etiquette was to say Mrs. Doolittle. Instead, by calling her Eliza, he showed his disrespect and how he viewed her as a piece of art to be studied rather than a human. Similarly, in “a Dolls House” Torvald’s pet names for Nora objectified her and showed how Torvald viewed her as a child that needed to be controlled.  Lastly the scariest comparison between the two characters was how they treated women like dolls. The phrase of the protagonist women being treated like a doll came up in both books. In “Pygmalion” Mrs. Higgins says to Henry and Pickering

You certainly are a pretty pair of babies, playing with your live doll” (p.35).

This reoccurring concept in both plays raised many questions and personal feelings.

I previously used the word “scary” to describe the similarity of women being treated like dolls by men because the concept scares me. Seeing this idea appear in two plays consecutively really brought my attention to it. How are women treated by men in society? Both plays were set in the past, so it is easy to dismiss the sexism as an “old problem” or something that is irrelevant in today’s world. But I don’t think that is the case. Everywhere I go little examples of sexism are presented right in front of me whether it’s a remark made under their breath, or a questionable social media post. I think that “scary” can be applied to how men treat women in all of society’ s past and present. This question raised many personal feelings and thoughts on how this affects me. As a woman, I sadly wasn’t surprised by this. This dehumanization is a constant battle I must face every day for the rest of my life. These plays really solidified that fact.

Side note: obviously not all men are like this please don’t get offended or come at me for this post.

A Dolls House PR

“A Doll’s House” written by Henrik Ibsen is a play that raises questions about what a healthy relationship looks like. When analyzing Torvald’s and Nora relationship it resembles the relationship of a father and child because of the pet names, controlling behaviour, and comparison between fathers and husbands. I am disgusted by the relationship between Nora and Torvald but it also raises many questions. 

Torvald treats Nora like a child and Nora’s actions subside to Torvald’s view of her. Torvald’s pet names for Nora like “sky lark” and “little squirrel” are very childish. They make Nora out to be so fragile and innocent.  They prove that he sees her like a child that is incapable.

“My spending-bird is sweet but it uses up an awful lot of money. It’s incredible how expensive it is for a man to keep a spending-bird” (p.112).

In this particular example Torvald is referring to Nora as something that he owns and is responsible for. In the movie one scene that really stuck out to me was when Nora wants to convince Torvald for a favour she uses the pet names to her advantage.

“Your squirrel would run about and do tricks if you were nice and gave in to her” (p.146)

  Nora states while acting like a squirrel. Similar to how a child will guilt their parents into buying them ice cream. The pet names and Nora acting like animals stuck out to me because I was disgusted by it. 

The second thing that I did not like about the relationship between Nora and Torvald was Torvald’s controlling behaviour and consequently Nora’s need for Torvald’s approval. The main example of this is that he does not allow Nora to eat macarons because he does not want her to ruin her teeth. When he catches her eating macarons her response is

“it would never occur to me to go against you” (p.113).

Another example is when Nora says

“ I’ll think of something that will charm him, that’ll capture his approval” (p.119).

It revolts me that Torvald treats and sees Nora as a child. What’s worse is that she not only does not stop him from controlling her but gives into his ways by seeking his approval. 

Lastly the most convincing piece of evidence that Nora and Torvald’s relationship is like a father and child is that Nora constantly makes comparisons between Torvald and her own father.  When Nora comes to the conclusion to leave Torvald she says

“I’ve been greatly wronged Torvald. First by daddy and then by you”(p.182).

This comparison of Nora’s at the end of the play confirms that their marriage was never a true marriage. It was a relationship between a controlling father and an innocent child. I did not enjoy watching or reading this book because their relationship is sickening. However, this play does raise questions such as what does a healthy marriage look like?  


Shakespeare & Sympathy

The Merchant of Venice written by William Shakespeare is a tragedy that had me questioning why some characters earn a reader’s sympathy while others do not? In this case why readers heavily sympathize with Shylock and not Antonio. Throughout the play readers, including myself, are heavily encouraged to sympathize with Shylock yet despise Antonio even though both characters suffer misfortunes. Why does Shylock earn our sympathy while Antonio does not? The answer to this question in one sense is obvious, because Antonio has shown his antisemitic views several times throughout the play. For example, spitting in Shylock’s face for no apparent reason. But looking beyond Antonio’s antisemitism I discovered another point of view on why we sympathize with Shylock and not Antonio.

On further thinking about Antonio’s character, I realized that if the court had gone another way he would have died and yet I did not care. I was still focused on sympathizing with Shylock because his daughter had stolen his money and Antonio did not pay his debt. During these times I was hoping that Shylock would get justice.  These feelings stood out to me because Antonio was going to die and yet I only felt bad for Shylock even though his misfortunes were less severe than death. This led me to question why I did not feel even the slightest bit sorry for Antonio when he was going to die? And further how writers make readers sympathize with some characters while hating other characters? I think that the portrayal of the characters’ emotions influences how the reader feels towards them. For instance, Antonio is portrayed as a character who is wallowing in self-pity throughout the whole play. An example of this is when Antonio is speaking to Solanio and he states that

“Well, jailer on. Pray God Bassanio come To see me pay his debt, and then I care not” (III.iii.35-36).

All Antonio cares about is Bassanio coming to see him and not his own death. And this is the reason why I felt no sympathy for Antonio. His feeling sorry for himself and only caring about his love for Bassanio is an unattractive personal quality. His own indifference on whether he dies or not also rubs off on the reader. In comparison the portrayal of Shylock’s intense emotions is what makes me sympathize with him. These emotions can be seen during his speech

“fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject with the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer as a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die? And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?” (III.i.54-59).

The words said in this speech show Shylock’s passion and anger. His intense emotions and his want for justice are qualities that make the reader sympathize with him. Similarly, to Antonio’s indifference rubbing off on the reader, Shylock’s want for justice, pure anger and hurt makes the reader want justice for Shylock. It’s interesting to note that how characters feel about themselves the reader also feels. As well as how stronger emotions resonate more with the reader than lesser emotions.  From these examples I learned that how a reader feels about characters is not solely based on the nature of their actions but also the emotions of the characters.  The reason Shylock earns the sympathy of the reader while Antonio does not is because of the portrayal of the his emotions.

The Bully and his Victim

In the story of The Bully and His Victim there is no clear right and wrong. Neither party is completely innocent or completely guilty. The Bully was wrong for treating the victim unjustly. But the victim was wrong for acting with violence and breaking the Bully’s knee cap. This would make being a judge in this situation very hard. First I would have to know all the facts. There is simply too little information provided. For example, did the victim ever consult the bullies and ask them to stop? Did the victim tell anyone in a position of power? Did the victim do anything to help his cause before acting in violent ways? As well as, for all these questions is there concrete supporting evidence. I would need lawyers and a courtroom for a proper trial. But, if I had to make a ruling with these facts, both parties would be punished for their crimes. The Bully and his associates would be given a severe punishment. Their actions were not acceptable.  This could be expulsion from the school and community service. The Victim would be punished for his violent ways but less severely than the bullies because self defence could be a factor. I would say that the victim should be suspended from school for a few days.

Poetry; listening to the unheard voices

Langston Hughes is an African American poet who lived during the Harlem Renaissance.The diction and tone used in his poems provide insight into the lives of African Americans. This allows the reader to understand the hardships of their lives and sympathize with the speakers. The world in the poems resembles the world we live in today which brings up questions like what should we be doing to make our society more globally aware? 

Langston Hughes uses poetry to share the perspectives of oppressed groups of people  through the speaker’s diction which expresses their feelings on topics such as injustice. An insight on the speaker’s perspective on the hardships in their life made me  sympathize with them. An example of this is  “I Too”, in this poem the speaker is an African American who is not allowed to sit at the kitchen table with white people. The speaker’s tone is frustrated. He expresses this through his word choice “They’ll see how beautiful I am/ And be ashamed- /I too am America” (ll.15-17). These words “ I too am America” help readers understand the frustration of African Americans. But it also has the reader admiring the speaker for his perseverance, I find myself rooting for justice for the speaker.  A poem that shows the perspective of working African American mothers is “ The Negro Mother”. In this poem the speaker expresses the struggles of being a black mother. they go through to create a positive life for their children. The diction in this poem carries emotional weight which portrays the speaker as overworked, “ No safety, no love, no respect was I do”(l.16) and, “But I had to keep on till my work was done. I had to keep on! No stopping for me-”(ll.29-30). This exhausted tone makes the reader respect and sympathize with African American mothers. Lastly, the poem I found most moving “Let America Be America Again” shows the perspective of all the oppressed groups in America: the poor white people, African Americans and other people of colour. An angry tone is expressed by the speaker. It is created through the use of  ill- favoured words “Out of the rack and ruin  of our gangsters death, the rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies” (ll.79-80).  This passage emphasizes the exasperation and shows the reader a glimpse into how it feels to be oppressed in America. This often has the reader sympathizing  and supporting the speaker.  Langston Hughes cleverly uses the speaker’s diction as an outlet to share the perspectives of injustice in America. By doing this the reader can understand and have sympathy for the characters. These simple black marks on white paper give light to perspectives that otherwise couldn’t be seen by outsiders.

 The speakers’ in these poems are not just characters; they tell the story of real people. The people in these poems represent people in our world today, this raises questions about  global awareness.Their perspectives share feelings and struggles that are felt by many people today because the world depicted in these poems is similar to the world we live in today. The similarities between the world in the poem and today’s world are the strong prevalence of racism and injustice towards people of colour. For example in “Ballad of the Landlord” an African American is facing unlawful charges from the police. This can also be seen in America with the Black Lives Matter movement and police brutality against African Americans. Due to the similarity between the world in the poems and our world today a question that is raised for me is what should I do? And what can we do to make our society more globally aware and just? And I think the answer is to keep listening. Listening to the voices whether through more poetry, other literature or social media. I believe this will help us be more globally aware and then allow us to act in a way which is beneficial and supportive.  For example in “ As I grew older” by Langston Hughes  the speaker states “Help me to shatter this darkness,/ To smash this night,/ To break this shadow,/ Into a thousand lights of sun,/ Into a thousand whirling dreams/ Of sun” (ll.28-33). Here the speaker is asking the reader to help him break the barriers that African Americans face while trying to reach their dreams. If we as a society continue to listen to oppressed voices and learn about the past  then we can act to make the future a place of justice and freedom. Reading a collection of Langston Hughes poems showed me many new perspectives which will help me to be more culturally aware.

The do’s and dont’s of reading

Chapter five of Outsmart Your Brain by Daniel T Willingham taught me about the do’s and don’ts of reading. Reading in this context does not refer to a fun pastime but reading that is assigned by teachers. I learned that reading is a long process that requires a lot of effort from the reader.  The book emphasizes that reading textbooks should be done carefully with an appropriate strategy. Not to my surprise speed reading and highlighting what the reader thinks is important information, is not an effective strategy. Even though this is my go-to strategy, I have realized that it is not very productive. Willingham’s reasoning for this is that the reader is not aware of what is important in the text until a thorough analysis has been done. Alternatively, other reading methods that are more productive are explained.

The main ideas I took away from effective methods for reading were to prepare before reading, ask questions, and take useful notes. To prepare before reading means to survey the text and find out what it is about. This encourages the reader to think about what they are going to read which allows them to ask questions. Asking questions helps create a goal for reading. Instead of randomly reading, looking for the answers keeps readers on task.  Even asking questions while reading is useful because it helps process the information you read.  Lastly, I learned that to take notes effectively a tip is to look at the headings and subheadings of a text.  The book suggests summarizing each subheading in your notes. Using these as checkpoints for notes will help keep them organized and concise. Taking notes while reading will also be useful for reviewing the reading.  Willingham’s suggestions are very informative and I will be using his strategies in the future.

Voltaire’s Candide

Candide written by Voltaire was written in a very unique way and raised many philosophical questions.  This satirical book revolves around Voltaire’s philosophical beliefs and is primarily him taking stabs at different groups of people. How he writes this however, is through an innocent story following a character and his ridiculous life full of misfortunes. As well as presenting his own philosophical beliefs in this story Voltaire also raises many philosophical questions that resonated with me and had me questioning my own life. 

The plot of Candide is presented through bite size adventures in which Voltaire has an opportunity to showcase his philosophical argument. In each chapter Candide and his friends experience new places that  progress the plot. Voltaire does this by using Candide as a pawn, strategically placing him in situations to his advantage. A prominent example of this is how Voltaire criticises religion in the story. In chapter eight the reader is informed that the grand inquisitor (an important person of the catholic church) is using Cunegonde for sexual desires which is usually frowned upon in the christian religion. Similarly, in chapter twenty-eight Pangloss enters a mosque where an imam has

“ a very pretty young worshipper saying her paternosters. Her bosom was completely uncovered”(p.111). 

Both these examples are Voltaire slipping in insulting remarks of religion and how the preachers of religions are hypocrites. Another one of Voltaire’s arguments that Candide presents is that money cannot buy happiness. Candide acquires many riches in El Dorado but this only brings corruption into his life. For example in Paris he is cheated out of his money by many people including doctors and the Marchioness of Paroglinac. In Venice Candide gives money to Paquette  in hopes that “ they will be happy”( p.93) but later Paquette returns broke and unhappy, proving Voltaire’s point. Voltaire even goes as far as to endlessly revive characters from the dead just to use them to prove a point. Pangloss, Cunegonde and Paquette all previously mentioned were thought to be dead but came back and helped further Voltaire’s argument.  Yet I still found myself enjoying the book and wondering what Candide’s next adventure was going to be. This tactic of using what seems to be innocent adventures is a clever way to write about heavy, philosophical issues and write a persuasive argument in a way that is light and enjoyable for the reader. Because the plot was written like this a question that came about was how would the book end?  

Although the plot was everything but the kitchen sink the conclusion brought everything to a close while posing many philosophical questions. The conclusion was my favourite part because it had me thinking about many intriguing ideas. The first quote that had  me rereading was a question posed by the old women,

“ I would like to know what is worse; being violated a hundred times by pirates, having a buttock cut off, running the gauntlet in the bulgar army, being whipped and hanged in an auto-da-fé, being dissected, rowing in a galley, suffering all the miseries we have been through or simply sitting around here without doing anything?”(p.115).

Here, I believe her to be questioning whether adventures filled with misery or boredom is worse. I don’t know the answer to this difficult question but it gives light to a new perspective on tragic situations. For example when in an undesirable situation I will ponder the philosophical thought on whether it would be worse to be bored or suffer.  Secondly,  when the group encounters the Young Turk he states

“I only have twenty five acres, I cultivate it with my children. Work keeps the three great evils at bay; boredom, vice and want”  (p. 118). 

This quote resonated with Candide as well as myself. The deeper meaning behind these words is questionable but the way I interpreted this quote is that to live a happy life free of boredom, crime, and poverty one needs to work hard and stop searching for the meaning of life. After hearing this quote Candide decides to stop debating philosophy with his scholars but instead he decides

“we must cultivate our garden” (p.119).

The literal meaning of this is to plant a garden with lots of luscious crops. Beyond the literal meaning there is a figurative meaning which I simply think is too indulge in life full of work. I too want to cultivate my garden.

Reflection on Let Evening Come Essay

Writing an essay on “Let Evening Come” was a good learning experience and taught me what I need to focus on.  To improve my grade, I need to learn and practice basic grammar/spelling and provide a better analysis of the text.  My most common errors were grammar mistakes like not using the possessives properly and comma errors. Another problem was random capital letters throughout the essay.  I believe these errors to be a result of rushing. The spelling of words was also a mistake I frequently made by switching the order of the letters. From receiving my spelling and grammar feedback I learned that I need to slow down so that I make fewer mistakes. Another thing that would help me with these mistakes is to learn grammar and spelling rules and practice them in my free time. The second thing I need to improve on is my analysis of the text. In my essay for one paragraph, I wrote about diction and focused on what the text was saying which was a mistake. I looked for meaning and elaborated on things that were not actually in the text. Instead, I should have focused on how the text was written. From the feedback, I have received I learned that I need to analyze how the author creates mood through imagery, structure, sound effects, and diction and not the content of the text. Something that I think would be beneficial for improving all mistakes is to do a more effective job editing my essay after the initial first draft. 

Paradise and Death Personal Response

“Paradise and Death” written by Eric Macknight, provides a new perspective on Odysseus’ adventures. I found the comparisons of life and death to be very thought-provoking and it caused me to reflect on my own life. I find that when life is hard it is easy for me to get caught up thinking about simpler times in the past. But this does not allow me to progress into the future. And with no future, there is no life, only death. Another comparison that the essay had me reflect on was the notion of immortality and death. We talked about this construct in class and surprisingly I was thinking about it for the rest of the day. Kalypso (a death goddess) offers Odysseus the chance to be young forever. In one manner this can be perceived as her offering death to Odysseus because his life will never progress past that point, and he will never see his family again. This concept of immortality of being young forever is very prominent in pop culture today. Many young people including myself have the idea that being young forever with no responsibilities would be ideal. But now having read “Paradise and Death” and discussing it in class I have a different perspective on what it means to be young forever. Odysseus’ ability to escape death countless times is an admirable character trait. He is offered an easier way of life with no hardships like living in the past only and being young forever, but he does not accept these offers.   

Not only does “Paradise and Death” bring up intriguing points it is also exemplary written.  Reading this essay, I learned new things about how to write an essay correctly. I now know that it might be a good idea to explain what is happening in the text before inserting a quote from the text. This way the quote does not seem awkwardly placed in the essay. As well as providing organization and clarity to an essay, transition sentences are very helpful. A clever example of this in the essay is “It is after these traumatic misadventures that they arrive on Kirkê’s island” (pg. 4). Here we can see a transition sentence that helps move the essay from one point to another. Another point about quotes that I learned was it is not necessary for every paragraph to have a supporting quote from the text. Sometimes when I am writing a response, I try to force quotes that don’t belong into my writing because I thought they were necessary. Overall, after reading “Paradise and Death” I gained knowledge on how to write an essay and I hope that this improves my writing skills.  

Antigone an admirable character

Antigone written by Sophocles was a very intriguing book. As opposed to Oedipus I found the book more complex which made it more enjoyable to read. This is particularly because I found Antigone’s character fascinating. Her character is now someone that I admire and aspire to be like. A reason that I admire her is because of her close resemblance to a feminist and her ability to stand up against Creon. Finally making these connections the question of  “Who are we” in relation to Antigone arouse. 

Antigone is a character that I admired while reading this Greek tragedy. The qualities that I admire in Antigone are her bravery and loyalty to her own values. Her bravery is shown when she breaks Creon’s law to bury her brother; Polynices. Antigone does this because she believes that she is honoring her family and the law of the gods. I like that instead of conforming to the state law she boldly stood up for her family and her values. Even after Antigone is caught she does not ask for sympathy but says some courageous words to Creon;

“And if my present actions strike you as foolish, let’s just say I’ve been accused of folly by a fool” (p.82).

I commend Antigone for having the confidence to stand up to a tyrant even if it means sacrificing her life. Creon’s perspective however is that Antigone has a death wish and worships death;

“There let her pray to the one god she worships – death” (p.100).

He thinks this because he doesn’t understand Antigone’s perspective. Contrary to Creon I sympathize with Antigone and understand her motives. I believe that Antigone is willing to die fighting for a better world than the one she lives in and this is very admirable. Antigone’s traits and actions also make her an early example of a feminist. 

In Antigone one theme that connects to our world is sexism. Throughout the play, there are many examples of gender inequality, specifically men vs women. In our world, it is a common view that women are seen as inferior to men and that a woman should not challenge this. This is portrayed in Antigone when Antigone challenges Creon and his laws.  Due to Antigone’s actions, she can be viewed and compared to a modern-day feminist. Through bravery, she stands up against Creon who is an example of a misogynist. He does not like the fact that a girl is trying to overrule him, he states that

“ While I’m alive no woman is going to lord it over me” (p. 86).

This is very patriarchal of Creon but it is similar to the ideologies of today’s world. Ismene, Antigone’s sister however has a different perspective on how to act under Creon’s ruling. She would rather conform to Creon’s views because she is too scared to stand up for herself. An example of this is when she is asked to help bury Polynices, Ismene says

“Remember we are women we’re not born to contend with men” (p. 62).

She chooses to adhere to Creon’s rules out of fear and accept her place in society. Making this connection between the world of Antigone and our own world brought up the big question: who are we? As well as who should we be? By this, I mean comparing ourselves to the two sisters in this story. Antigone is a strong-minded, courageous feminist who is willing to die for a bigger cause. Or Ismene who puts her beliefs aside and conforms to other people out of fear. Moving forward, I am going to strive to be more like Antigone. 

Oedipus the King – a good read

Oedipus the King written by Sophocles was something that I enjoyed reading. I found myself wanting to pick the book up and read past the assigned pages. The reasons for this were the characters and the tone. The main character Oedipus had many layers to his personality which made him more intriguing. The humorous tone of this book was also something that kept me interested. This book also raised a few questions and caused me to reflect.

I found Oedipus’s character to be complicated. This is because he was a tragic hero who was neither totally good nor evil. At the beginning of the book, I did not like Oedipus because I found him to be conceited and have a bad temper. An example of these traits is when Tiresias calls Oedipus the murderer. At this point, Oedipus is very quick to lash out without thinking which makes him unlikeable. As the book progresses, we can see his determination to find out the truth and his loyalty to Thebes. This changed how I viewed Oedipus; I now admired these qualities. The ending to this story had me feeling sorry for Oedipus because of how he felt like a puppet to the Gods. At first, I was confused about why he decided to stab his eyes but then I realized he wanted to have control over his own life. I realize now that portraying Oedipus with both flaws and strengths made Oedipus more transparent. This is because it makes him more human and more relatable instead of a hero with no flaws. Now I wonder if in some way or another we are all similar to Oedipus’s character. Another thing that made me want to continue reading this book was the tone. 

 Although the plot of the play was tragic there was a comical and ironic tone which added to my enjoyment. There were many puns and ironic lines that conveyed this tone such as Oedipus’s line when talking about Laius “I will fight for him as if he were my father.” (p.173). This is ironic because little did, he know Laius was his father. One more line delivered by Oedipus that made me laugh was “I have a terrible fear that the blind seer can see” (p. 203). Passages such as these made the book more entertaining. Another character that is quite humorous is the Messenger. The Messenger delivers many important facts which are crucial to the story but with a comical tone. For example, when the Messenger learns why Oedipus was scared to go back to Corinth he says; “Don’t you know? You’ve really nothing to fear. Polybus was nothing to you, that is why, not in blood” (p. 218). This line is funny because Oedipus has feared going back to Corinth his whole life, but the messenger delivers this news like it is no big deal. Something to consider about the tone of this play is that it was originally performed on a stage with an audience so that is why humour might be a prominent part of the tone. Regardless I appreciated the comical characters and puns throughout the book.  

Class Blog Intro

Hello fellow students and Mr. Macknight. Most of you know that my name is Aneesha. For those who don’t, I look forward to meeting you in the future. I was born in Rhode Island but have lived most of my life in Victoria. One of the best things about Vancouver Island is its natural beauty. This is why one of my favorite things to do is to go on walks with my dog. Another pass time of mine is to listen to music, mostly hip hop.

Regarding DP 1 English, my expectations are to learn new things and to read interesting books.  My hopes are that by the end of the year I improve my writing skills. Specifically, criteria D because I struggled with this in MYP 5. I will try to approach DP 1 English with my best effort.