Friday, April 4, 2008

Reflective Essay

Senior year for me has been crazy, especially in English class. Unfortunately, I was not entirely involved with everything we did. However, I was still able to learn a lot. At the beginning of the year, I was very enthusiastic about going into the class. We started reading “The Stranger” and I very interested in the book. Even though at first it was difficult to understand many events that were happening in the story, Mr. Gallagher made sure that everything was thoroughly explained. When we would have lit circles and everyone was able to talk about what they thought was going on in the book, I was able to actually understand some things that I was confused about. The lit circles we did were definitely a big help.

When I was first introduced to a passage explication, I was thought that it would be the easiest assignment ever. My thoughts were that we would just have to explain what was happening in that passage. After reading the rubric and seeing examples of what we were going to have to do, I realized that it was not going to be that simple after all. When I wrote my first passage explication on a passage in the book “The Stranger” by Albert Camus, I thought that I had done a pretty good job. However, after getting the paper back, I realized that I did not understand how to really explicate a passage. That changed, though, after writing many other passage explications. Each time I did one, I learned to go more into depth and analyze the passage, instead of just describing what the author meant with his words.

Having the blog available, to me, was a huge help as well. Being able to se other student’s explications and observing how they did it helped me on my other assignments. Also, I was able to comment on anything I thought was interesting and ask questions about how they got their thesis. Another thing that I really enjoyed about blogging was that it would give me a little more time to pass in the assignment. I loved the fact that I would have until midnight to post an assignment.

After having worked hard to pass with a good enough grade for first quarter, instead of keeping it up, I began to get comfortable and not put any effort into my work. I lost my focus and stopped doing all the homework assignments and reading the books I was suppose to read. Unfortunately, I had no idea of how many things I was missing out on. We were reading James Joyce at the time, and because it is such a complicated book, I would have learned a lot from it if I tried. Only now I look back and realize that I was wasting my time by not doing the work. However, in my mind I thought that doing all the work would be a waste of time. When the end of second quarter approached I panicked. I was failing with the lowest grade that I had ever received in my life. Unfortunately, it was too late to do anything about my grade, so my lack of effort was proved the grade I got for that quarter.

Even though I could not do anything to change my grade for second quarter, I new that it was not too late to try harder for third quarter. I stopped feeling bad and began doing all my work, making sure that it was on time. We began reading Shakespeare’s play “Hamlet” and I made sure to not miss class, so that I could get all the explanation on the passages and understand what was going on. I also made sure to check snap grades all the time, to see how my grades were doing. I realized how important this class was, not only because I need it to graduate, but also because the colleges that I got into are going to be seeing my grades. As I move on to college and graduate from Malden High School, I can happily say that I did learn a lot in English class this year. Not only did I learn about many artists and how to explicate passages, but I also learned to be independent with my work. Mr. Gallagher, in my point of view, is the type of teacher who advices you, gives you your options, and lets you go. This helped me learn to run after the things I need because they are for my own benefit. No one else will benefit from me if I get good grades and study hard, so it would not make sense for them to come after me telling me what I need to get done. In English class this year, I was treated as an adult, and as Mr. Gallagher would say, “I am helping you guys by treating you like they do in ‘real life’ or in college.” He did indeed help me, because I feel like I have learned to put effort into everything I do, and to run after the things that will help me in my life.


We all make mistakes in this world, because truly, no one is perfect. As much as we try to reach for perfection and make everything right, there will be times where we make mistakes and fall. The best way to deal with this or solve it, though, is to get back up and either start over or continue from where you stopped. In my opinion, being resilient or quick to recover is in fact “the greatest glory” as Confucius says it in his statement.

Everyone, everyday faces a challenge. A good and simple example is a student in high school. When starting high school, we usually go into freshman year thinking about getting good grades for college. We study hard first year, a little harder the second year, then all of a sudden you stop on your third year. The challenge is to continue studying hard junior year because it’s the most important of all; it’s the year where your grades will be sent to the colleges you apply for. Unfortunately, you start getting lazy and worrying about unimportant things that are going on in your life which makes you go completely low in you grades and fall behind. If you continue to fall behind, you’ll eventually fall, and in some cases, not pass for the year, considering that you need these credits to graduate. This is tha part when you bring yourself up and try harder on putting your focus on what really matters, which is college, and to get there, you can’t continue to fall. I think that most of the times, it’s best to think that you need to reach that goal rather then making it optional. That way, it’s much easier to get out of the hole once you’ve fallen.

Another example that always motivates me to get up and keep trying is my mother actions when she was in a tough situation. While going through a rough divorce with my father, my mother managed to keep her head high and not fall behind along with her marriage. She did everything she could to get her strength in keeping up and her thoughts away from my father. Most of the time when you focus on other things that are more important, it makes it easier for you to get back up. In my mothers case, focusing on my sister and I was her way out of it. If she had chosen to stay in her depressing moment rather than quickly recovering from, she could’ve eventually brought down more people with her, which is why in some cases, you should not only choose to recover quickly but have to. Now she continues to liver her life happily, and I think that if she were to fall into another hole, she would recover even faster than before.

When we choose to rise every time we fall, eventually we become stronger and more experienced, learning from what made us fall behind before. This makes it, not impossible, but harder to fall and much easier to reach our goals, or success.

Stephen Dedalus

The main character, Stephen Dedalus, in James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man struggles in trying to fit in, looking for attention and affection. His inability to co-exist affectively with either men or women thrust him into a world of loneliness and a feeling of being unable to fit in. In school, the students would make fun of Stephen. Outside of school, with his father, they were never in the same level of maturity and were never able to understand each other. Then, with women, Stephen was not so much looking for lovers, as he was looking for someone to take care of him. He was searching for that motherly figure in all the women in his life and wanted to be nurtured by them. Meanwhile, he never quite knew how to fit in with all the men he encountered. All these struggles resulted in Stephen’s quest to become an artist. He realizes how freeing art is, not having to socialize with others and not having to mask his uneasiness.
One of the first times that Stephen is put on the spot and made fun of was in the beginning of the novel. His friends decide to ask him a question and pick on him regardless of the answer that Stephens gives.
“Then he went away from the door and Wells came over to Stephen and said:
-Tell us, Dedalus, do you kiss your mother every night before you go to bed?
Stephen answered:
-I do.
Wells turned to the other fellows and said:
-O, I say, here’s a fellow says he kisses his mother every night before he goes to bed.
The other fellows stopped their game and turned around, laughing.
Stephen blushed under their eyes and said:
-I do not.
Wells said:
-O, I say, here’s a fellow says he doesn’t kiss his mother before he goes to bed.
They all laughed again. Stephen tried to laugh with them. He felt his whole body hot and confused in a moment. What was the right answer to the question? He had given two and still Wells laughed. But Wells must know the right answer for he was in third of grammar. He tried to think of Wells’s mother but he did not dare to raise his eyes to Wells’s face. He did not like Wells’s face. It was Wells who had shouldered him into the square ditch the day before because he would not swop his little snuffbox for Wells’s seasoned hacking chestnut, the conqueror of forty. It was a mean thing to do; all the fellows said it was. And how cold and slimy the water had been! And a fellow had once seen a big rat jump plop into the scum.” (25-26)

This situation was one of Stephens first attempt in trying to fit in, and instead he was humiliated by Wells and the others. He did not know how to react towards Wells question, and being the timid boy that he is, instead of sticking with one answer, he gives two hoping that one or the other would be correct. He show insecurity and no self confidence, which makes it easier for the others to pick on him. In the end, Stephen laughs along with Wells and the other students with hope of still being able to fit in.
Another one of Stephens struggle that leads to his quest in being an artist is his incapability of bonding with his father. He does not want to be like his father, and thinks low of his fathers ideas. While they were all sitting at a bar, talking to some friends, Stephen realizes how different he is from his father, and his father realizes how Stephen does not seem to enjoy the things his father’s friends talk about.
“They had set out early in the morning from Newcombe’s coffeehouse where Mr. Dedalus’ cup had rattled noisily against its saucer and Stephen had tried to cover that shameful sign of his gather’s drinking bout of the night before by moving his chair and coughing. One humiliation had succeeded another: the false smiles of the market sellers, the curvet things and oglings of the barmaids with whom his father flirted, the compliments and encouraging words of his father’s friends. They had told him that he had a great look of his grandfather and Mr. Dedalus had agreed that he was an ugly likeness. They had unearthed traces of a Cork accent in his speech and made him admit that the Lee was a much finer river than the Liffey. One of them in order to put his Latin to the proof had made him translate short passages from Dilectus and asked him whether it was correct to say: Tempora mutantur nos et mutamur in illis or Tempora mutanmur et nos mutamur in illis. Another, a brisk old man, whom Mr. Dedalus called Johnny Cashman, had covered him with confusion by asking him to say which were prettier, the Dublin girls or the Cork girls.”(90)

In this passage, Stephen is embarrassed by his father’s behavior. He does not appreciate how his fathers manners are and definitely does not fit in with the rest of his fathers friends. Once again, Stephen is feeling humiliated and lonely. He feels he does not belong in that place with those people, especially because him and his father have completely different minds. Stephen is not the only one to realize this. Mr. Dedalus’ friends point Stephen out and humiliate him also by assuring that he is nothing like his father.
“-He’s not that way built, said Mr. Dedalus. Leave him alone. He’s a levelheaded thinking boy who doesn’t bother his head about that kind of nonsense.
-Then he’s not his father’s son, said the little old man.
-I don’t know, I’m sure, said Mr. Dedalus, smiling complacently.
-Your father, said the little old man to Stephen, was the boldest flirt in the city of Cork in his day. Do you know that?
Stephen looked down and studied the tiled floor of the bar into which they had drifted.
-Now don’t be putting ideas into his head, said Mr. Dedalus. Leave him to his Maker.
-Yerra, sure I wouldn’t put any ideas into his head. I’m old enough to be his grandfather. And I am a grandfather, said the little old man to Stephen. Do you know that?
-Are you? Asked Stephen.”(90-91)

After all the humiliation of listening to his fathers friends, at the end, Stephen tries to escape the conversation. He leads to a different subject, asking the little old man more about his grandchildren so that he wouldn’t talk more about his father’s past. Unfortunately for Stephen, he is forced to always escape from certain subjects in order to continue the conversation and ‘fit in.’ Stephen feels very distant from his father and ashamed of the way his father deals with things. As a result of his feeling of loneliness, Stephen turns to a poem by Shelley.
“Nothing stirred within his soul but a cold and cruel and loveless lust. His childhood was dead or lost and with it his soul capable of simple joys: and he was drifting amid life like the barren shell of the moon.
Art thou pale for weariness
Of climbing heaven and gazing on the earth,
Wandering companionless…?
He repeated to himself the lines of Shelley’s fragment. Its alternation of sad human ineffectualness with vast inhuman cycles of activity chilled him: and he forgot his own human and ineffectual grieving.

The last sentence in this passage proves how art took Stephen away from his struggles and relaxed his mind. After repeating the poem, Stephen dazed off into another world, a world where he was the artist. A world where the rules of society don’t apply to your art.
For Stephen, dealing with women was also a struggle for him. He wanted to find that perfect woman, that would take care of him as his mother had done when he was younger. He was aiming for a woman with a similar image of the Virgin Mary. Stephen wanted her to be pure and reserved. Instead of finding that woman, Stephen ended up with a strumpet, whom he lost his virginity to and felt horribly ashamed for doing so. This yearning for love or this urge for a relationship was so immense that when he was tempted by the strumpet, his weakness covered him completely and he was forced to give in.
“She passed her tinkling hand though his hair, calling him a little rascal.
-Give me a kiss, she said.
His lips would not bend to kiss her. He wanted to be held firmly in her arms, to be caressed slowly, slowly, slowly. In her arms he felt that he had suddenly become strong and fearless and sure of himself. But his lips would not bend to kiss her.
With a sudden movement she bowed his head and joined her lips to his and he read the meaning of her movements in her frank uplifted eyes. It was too much for him. He closed his eyes, surrendering himself to her, body and mind, conscious of nothing in the world but the dark pressure of her softly parting lips. They pressed upon his brain as upon his lips as though they were the vehicle of a vague speech; and between them he felt an unknown and timid pressure, darker than the swoon of sin, softer than sound or odour.”(96)

After Stephens encounter with the strumpet, he feels miserable. From then on, his relationship with women become more complex. This leads Stephen to distance himself from women, which is another thing he has to struggle with. The confusion he has with knowing that he sinned and being so ashamed form it, causes him to further himself away from all women. The only woman Stephen finds pure and innocent is Emma. Unfortunately he is not able to win her heart, so he suffers, as the case study of Feminist Criticism states in article V. Flight from the Mother. “Unable to win the young and fickle heart of Emma, Stephen recreates her in baleful, aesthetic guise.”
The same article also explains about Stephens flight from women. His loneliness also came from him not being able to find a relationship, where he would not sin and would be nurtured by the girl. As a result, he decided to flee from the women, that way he would escape his grief.
“Through Portrait, Stephen manifests a psychological horror of woman as a figure of immanence, a symbol of unsettling sexual difference, and a perpetual reminder of bodily abjection. At the conclusion of chapter five, he prepares to flee from all the women who have served as catalysts in his own adolescent development. His journey into exile will release him from what he perceives as a cloying matriarchal authority. He must blot from his ears “his mother’s sobs and reproaches” and strike from his eyes the insistent “image of his mother’s face”(p. 194).

Lastly, Stephen finds his place, as an artist. He realizes that by pursuing his career as an artist, he will finally relax and be in control of himself. There will be no more rules of people telling him what to do and how to do it. His art will come out of his own individuality. In the last page of the novel they proclaim Stephen’s aim to be an artist.
“26 April: Mother is putting my new secondhand clothes in order. She prays now, she says, that I may learn in my own life and away from home and friends what the heart is and what it feels. Amen. So be it. Welcome, O life! I go to encounter for the millionth time the reality of experience and to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race.
27 April: Old father, old artificer, stand me now and ever in good stead.”(218)

These were Stephens last phrases. His tone is of so much happiness and excitement. Stephen’s mother states how he will learn by himself, which is what Stephen wanted. From his struggles, he entered this quest of becoming an artist, because the artist’s foundation for his work is his individual consciousness, which is what Stephen has been striving for.

Passage Explication on The Stranger

Albert Camus, author of The Stranger, believes “that only by facing the absurd can I act authentically; otherwise, I adopt a convenient attitude of wishful thinking,”(Le Mythe de Sisyphe.) He suggests that everyone lives and dies, that’s it. When Mersault, the main character of the book The Stranger, realizes this fact, he begins to reflect on himself and life and creates his own meaning and purpose to live. Still, he only realizes this fact after being sent to jail for murder, where is forced to stop and reflect on this theory of the ‘absurd’, or this thought that the universe has no meaning. Throughout these two passages from the book, Camus also proposes that regardless of Mersault acting with or without meaning and emotions towards everything, he is still responsible for his actions.

In the passage on pg. 81, where Mersault analyzes his reflection on the tin plate and realizes that even though he tries to smile, it “seemed to remain serious,” Camus suggests that it is needed for Mersault to stop and reflect upon himself. He mentions how while gazing at his reflection, “for the first time in months, I distinctly heard the sound of my own voice.” Finally, Mersault realizes that he is alone and unable to do anything, and is forced to hear, feel, and think about everything he does. He states after that, “I recognized it as the same one that had been ringing in my ears for many long days, and I realized that all that time I had been talking to myself.” Often, it is only when people are alone that they can focus better, and in Mersault’s case, it was only in jail that he was able to focus on himself, and face reality. Before, it seems like he would just act. He did not hear, see or feel. After this point on, Mersault is compelled to change and see what he got himself into. As he ends the passage with, “..there was no way out, and no one can imagine what nights in prison are like,” he concludes that being alone everyday in that prison cell brought him to realize the mistake he had made.

After realizing what he has done and excepting the consequences, we come across the passage where Mersault convinces himself of being indifferent towards death. Camus suggests here, that Mersault should face death as something normal, and that everyone will have to go through it one day. On pg. 114, Mersault states that “..everybody knows life isn’t worth living…that it doesn’t much matter whether you die at thirty or at seventy, since in either case other men and women will naturally go on living.” However, even though the thought of everyone being the same, considering that they would all die regardless of anything, comforted Mersault’s mind for a while, he clearly demonstrates his fear of dying when he says, “Whether it was now or twenty years from now, I would still be the one dying. At that point, what would disturb my train of thought was the terrifying leap I would feel my heart take at the idea of having twenty more years of life ahead of me.” Camus concludes with this, that if Mersault lived off of ‘wishful thinking’, it will eventually bring him to have fear of dying, while if he faced the fact with a better reasoning of it, then he’d become calm towards the fact of having to go through it. And this is what Mersault was doing. Later on in the passage he straightens his thought and pulls out of the fear, “..I simply had to stifle it by imagining what I’d be thinking in twenty years when it would all come down to the same thing anyway. Since we’re all going to die, it’s obvious that when and how don’t matter.” Then, when Mersault states his conclusion of “Therefore I had to accept the rejection of my appeal,” he mentions that, “..the difficult thing was not to lose sight of all the reasoning that went into this ‘therefore’.” It becomes very obvious here how much he needed that reason to except his appeal.

Mersault’s being in prison led him to think and reflect on the way he lived his life. He was an absurdist the whole time without knowing it, then finally when he stops to think about it, he faces the facts and accepts his death. Camus shows that Mersault had to face the absurd to allows himself to live recognizing his actions, or in other words, act with meaning. On the other hand, you live meaninglessly and that’s when the time of silence and reflecting upon themselves takes place, because regardless of Mersault’s action being with or without meaning or emotion, he is still responsible for them.

Journal Entry: A Lesson Before Dying

Pg. 3
I was not there, yet I was there. No, I did not go to the trial, I did not hear the verdict, because I knew all the time what it would be. Still, I was there. I was there as much as anyone else was there. Either I sat behind my aunt and his godmother or I sat beside them…Once she and my aunt had found their places…his godmother became as immobile as a great stone…she heard nothing said in the courtroom. Not by the prosecutor, not by the defense attorney, not by my aunt. (Oh, yes, she did hear one word-one word for sure: ‘hog.’) …She knew, as we all knew, what the outcome would be. A white man had been killed during a robbery, and though two of the robbers had been killed on the spot, one head been captured, and he, too, would have to die.

The author, Ernest J. Gaines, starts the book with this passage. Already, in this first passage he demonstrates racism and love. Gaines chooses start the story in a sad way. He also sets the story to begin in a trial, where a man is being innocently accused of murder. Then, when Grant, the narrator of the story, says “…she did hear one word-one word for sure: ‘hog’,” Gaines gives a clue that later on, pride will be a big them of the book. The way that he words that phrase and how he makes it stick out with the parenthesis seems very important. “His godmother” also seems to be very important because of the way Gaines talks about her. He compares her to “a great stone,” where we figure out that she must love this person a lot because it seems that she’s is dazing off into space, staring in only one direction, which is the direction of her godchild. Gaines chooses to start off like this because it brings more interest to the story. Right away we can tell that there will be a fight of justice. Grant says that he did not hear the verdict because he already knew what it would be, as did the godmother, so this indicates that the setting of the story was probably in the times where racism was still big. Gaines chose to begin the first passage of the book giving us an idea of how times were back then so that we’d understand later on the difficulties Grant, his ant and the godmother would have to go through to fight justice.

The Parable of the Blind: Explication

Blindness Towards God

In the poem “The Parable of the Blind,” William Carlos Williams suggests that the beggars are blind towards the truth, which in this poem the truth means God. The first clue is that the word parable, from the title, means “a short allegorical story designed to illustrate or teach some truth, religious principle, or moral lesson”(definition taken from Williams describes Brueghel’s painting with his poem, and in his poem, he insinuates a moral lesson being taught from the painting. He starts off differentiating the colors of this painting in comparison with that of the others that Brueghel painted in the first stanza, “without a red//in the composition”(lines3-4). This shows that there are no vibrant colors, that the paintings dark colors represent the blindness.

Williams calls the group of peasants in the painting beggars in the second stanza, “…shows a group/of beggars..”(lines 4-5). He refers to them as beggars because they have their faces lifted upwards, with a sad expression. They look as if they were begging, or as if they were in need of this ‘truth/light’, “the faces are raised/as toward the light”(lines19-20). Williams explains them as if they are begging for light, for God, because they are blind towards Him. He then, beginning the moral lesson, describes the ‘beggars’ in the second stanza to be “leading/each other diagonally downward”(lines 5-6). When people are blind towards God(light), it’s easier for others to who are also blind and weak to follow each other into sinning, and then “to stumble finally into a bog”(line9), as Williams states it. He states this two times, differently though, once in the beginning and then again at the end, “one/follows the others, stick in/hand”(lines22-24). When reading these words, a phrase that is or was often used came to my thoughts; a rotten apple can spoil a barrel full of good apples. The lesson or idea of this phrase is what Williams is insinuating in those lines. The blind ‘beggars’ will each fall into that ‘bog’ one buy one until one of them decides to let go of the stick and follow that light he looks up for. The meaning of the “light”(line20) is mentioned a couple of lines before this one, where he points out that “a peasant/cottage is seen and a church spire”(lines17-18). Also, the ‘beggars’ faces are described by Williams as being ‘raised’ towards the light in lines 19-20, and light comes from above, from heaven, where the sun is. Therefore, since God lives in heaven, and the sun is also usually described in myths as being God, the light that Williams mentions in the poem that the beggars are longing for, is God.

Lastly, Williams describes the beggars as carrying “pitiful possessions”(line16) in which one of them was a basin. He later explains that the basin was “to wash in a peasant/”(line17). The ‘wash in’ probably has to do with washing away their sins. This concludes with the religious lesson being taught throughout the poem.

Creating a Cover: A Lesson Before Dying

The first thought I had for designing the cover A Lesson Before Dying was to visualize what happens in a strong passage of the book, and draw it. Then, I thought about drawing a couple of symbols from the book, but there were so many, and I wouldn’t know how to organize them all onto the cover. Most of the important scenes through out the book are set in the jail cell where Jefferson is. Also, the strongest dialogues through out the chapters in the book were taken place inside the jail cell as well. Therefore, the jail cell becomes an important place for both Jefferson and Grant. It’s inside that cell that Jefferson and Grant form a special friendship, and learn from each other life lessons. That’s when I searched for a picture of a jail cell to make it easier to draw. While searching for that picture, I found one that had only one part of the cell door, with the persons hands around the bars. I couldn’t see the face of that person because the spaces were filled with dark coloring. I thought that that picture would be perfect for the cover.
After finding the picture, I knew that something was missing, because just drawing Jefferson’s hands grasping the bars of the cell door would be too plain. So I remembered of a phrase that stuck in my mind when reading a passage from Ch. 24. This phrase was spoken by Grant while he is trying to convince Jefferson that he is not what the whites think he is. Grant says, “I want you to show them the difference between what they think you are, and what you can be,” pg.191. I think that this phrase was THE lesson before Jefferson’s death. I really wanted to write it on the cover, but I wasn’t really sure how. Then, I looked at the hand around the bars of the cell door. One was all the way around, grabbing the bar tightly, while the other was just hanging. It was then that I thought of drawing a book hanging from Jefferson’s hand. This way, the title would match the drawing perfectly. The book symbolizes teaching, learning, and lessons. Since the phrase that Grant says to Jefferson was the ‘big’ lesson through out the book, writing it inside the book hanging from Jefferson’s hand was perfect. All in all, the drawing shows Jefferson, inside the jail cell with the book teaching him the ‘big’ lesson before his death.