Forced Friendliness in Native Son

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Native Son, written by esteemed author Richard Wright in 1940, centers around the life of a man named Bigger Thomas as he grows up in a poverty stricken Chicago in the 30s. One section recounts Bigger’s experience as he’s getting driven to a diner by two women, Jan and Mary. Just this excerpt in and of itself is enough to get us in the head of Bigger and the characters he interacts with. From what we can see, Bigger is a very resigned individual who doesn’t quite enjoy the company of others. This could be attributed to his status as an African American, which is most likely, or he just doesn’t prefer interacting with others very much. Jan and Mary are the characters that appear to act as the antagonists for Bigger, as its repeatedly revealed through Bigger’s body language that he is not comfortable with what the ladies want him to do, even if it’s something mundane like joining them for food at the diner. Bigger consistently appears uncomfortable around them, and sometimes it’s even hinted at him being sort of angry at them.

Once the ladies convince him to try some rum, he does end up opening up to them a bit more and reveals some details about his life in very short bursts. But why was he getting upset with them beforehand? I have a theory that it’s a commentary on those individuals who try to be overly welcoming to the African American community in the face of all the segregation and other such instances. But it’s such a forced friendliness that it feels faked and therefore not genuine, which may explain Bigger’s disdain for them early on in the excerpt. It really is a very real issue, or it was at least back in the day when the strive for equality was so great. False friendliness is a disturbing thing to be on the receiving end of, and Bigger’s interactions with the ladies seemingly gives off this idea of them acting like friends. (John Buchaniec / City of Stories)

A Single Moment

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Life shows us time and time again that all it takes is an experience. To scar us, to inspire us, to sweep us off our feet. Experiences live inside moments; each experience is born out of the exact circumstances of the moment in which it takes place. Experiences can present themselves as a full picture, or a single puzzle piece that falls into place in the future. We as humans are densely-packed masses of stardust made up of every experience we have ever had. Though some experiences may go without explanation, each and every one of them is a gift. The bittersweet end to Meno’s “Midway” illustrates just how precious a single moment can be, even when the events leading up to it have been anything but fortunate.

The prolonged concern that the narrator has for his brother in this short story gives one the notion that all of his uncanny decisions will lead the story to a tragic end. Even in the last couple of pages as the narrator encounters his brother at the airport, the reader may question whether the disagreement between the two will result in a physical fight. It is for these reasons that the actual ending that Meno put to this piece is so pleasing. In contrast to the negative, somber feel that the majority of the story conveys, this ending puts a very uplifting spin on things.

“Midway”, by Joe Meno, teaches us a crucial lesson. This author uses his own personal experience to show us that all we have in the end is just that – our experiences. Regardless of whether your past is composed of fond memories or is simply too painful to reflect back on, your past experiences are a unique sequence of events that have set you up for the priceless moments you have yet to experience. Even in the midst of his girlfriend moving, his parents missing an action, and his younger brother’s foolish decisions, the narrator manages to pause if only for a

 

second to thank the universe for all of the experiences, however negative, that lead him up to that moment in time. This quality of picking the blessings out of life’s madness like crystals from the ashes is something we should all aspire to.

All it takes is a single experience to prove that life gives back. No matter what the circumstances, there is always room for change. In a world that is ever growing and developing, change is the only constant. And with change, comes experience. “Midway”, by Joe Meno, is a story about focusing not on life’s flaws, but on the irreplaceable moments that are born out of them. (Courtney Aiken/COS student)

The Girl in the Funeral Parlor

 

This story was a tough read. It wasn’t difficult to understand, it just hit close to home in a strange way.

I’m currently going through the worst break up in the world. When professor Weller talked about how Catherine was his soul mate, it ripped my own soul in half. This break up isn’t necessarily ugly, but I suppose that’s what makes it even harder.

Just like he “knew” her his whole life, I have literally known her my whole life; or at least most of it. I first met her when I was six, when she moved into the house next-door to mine. Throughout elementary school, middle school, and two years of high school, we were best friends. We told each other everything and anything. As we got older, we discovered we had feelings for each other, and we fell for each other harder than anyone ever could. We had been building up a powerful relationship since the ages of five. The fact that we started dating wasn’t a surprise to anyone, especially my mother. Regardless, she and I were inseparable… until we weren’t.

We had a “mutual” break-up, meaning that I agreed with her that we should “discover ourselves as individuals.” I wanted to tell her the truth:

“I already know who the fuck I am. I’m Theodore Paul Li-fuckin-pari. I don’t need time away from you, I need more time with you! You’re my everything! Can’t you fucking see that?!”

Although, all I care about is what makes her happy. If she needs time to figure out who she is, then who am I to hold her back? I’m just a lifelong best friend. I’m just her first love, her first kiss, her one-and-only. That’s who she is to me too. But much like Catherine, I suppose she is dead, in the metaphorical sense of course. I guess what this story taught me is that I have to move on. I can travel to speak to her mother, talk about how I feel, take phone records to find her exact address in Michigan, but it won’t change the fact that she still won’t be mine. (Theodore Lipari/COS Student)

 

The Unconventional Happy Ending

A nuclear family is always the dream isn’t it, a mom, a dad, two kids it’s an idea that everyone in America wants. It’s an idea that poisons our love.

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Reading a story like Midway I didn’t quite understand it. It seemed like the average coming of age story where the characters have to overcome a traumatizing event resulting in them becoming an adult. But this was different; it was like the story after the coming of age story. The aftermath of how their lives dramatically changed after their father left and their mother kicked them out. In most coming of age stories the main character has some revelation at the end where they start to get a hold of their life and everything starts to normalize again. But this didn’t happen in Midway, Luis and Junior still have unresolved feelings about their father which is evident in the story. Luis still has the superman wristwatch his father gave him even though it has no use and he supposedly hates it. But the reason he keeps it is because it’s a memory of his father, of what he had and what he wants. His brother Junior is even worse, he obviously has some major emotional issues after his family started to break apart. He longs for a stable family with both his mom and dad living happily together. That’s why he steals the suitcases of the “happy” families, he lives their lives for a moment, he has their clothes their pictures he is happy through them. Junior and Luis’s life started to get worse not better, it was like I was watching them head down slippery slope to their demise. I could see all the problems but none of them were being fixed, though there was the heartwarming hug at the end. I doubt it solved all of Luis and Junior’s problems. Junior will probably still steal suitcases and Luis will eventually lose his mind in that factory. I know it’s pessimistic but at the end of the story only felt more anxious and worried about how the characters lives would change from here. It’s not exactly the “happy ending” I was expecting, it was more of a sour dose of reality showing that everything doesn’t always happen in your favor. (Sierra Norris/COS Student)

Picasso Baby

In the summer of 1967, Gwendolyn Brooks was asked by Chicago Mayor, Richard Daley, to write a poem to commemorate the erection of the Chicago Picasso. Brooks, who herself was not terribly well versed in art and originally considered herself to be under qualified to write the piece, was able to aptly express the feeling that the common individual has towards art. Those unfamiliar with art often approach it timidly, if they even approach it at all. Art challenges people when people would rather not be challenged, to be truly understood and felt art demands that we come out of our shells and grapple with ideas headstrong. Art is not comfortable; art makes us squirm. Pablo Picasso, the craftsman of this piece famously said, “the purpose of art is to disturb the comfortable and to comfort the disturbed”.

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Gwendolyn echoes this point throughout the entirety of the poem; she references a tall cold flower in the last stanza of her piece, and exclaims, “It is as meaningful and as meaningless as any other flower in the field”. Not because all flowers in a field are alike, but because until we open up ourselves wide enough to be impugned and to let our thoughts be provoked we will be unable to distinguish art from the mundane. It is easy to walk past the corner of Washington and Dearborn, and shrug off this work of art as an attempt to bring some eye candy to vast concrete landscape, keeping your mind at ease and your thoughts unchallenged. But if you allow yourself to revel in the discomfort, truly extend yourself to the piece, and be urged to voyage, to be hurt, you are opening yourself to be filled with enrichment rather than contentment. Brooks does not wish to condemn those who are confused by art, but rather commend them for taking a stab at understanding something that is often difficult. The less than cozy act sacrifices comfort in exchange for personal growth and that is sacrifice more people should be making. (Zac Polston/COS Student)

Stories All Stitched Together

I read The House On Mango Street when I was in the 3rd or 4th grade, and like most books I read at that age, I don’t quite remember it as well as I should. Plot tends to become muddled when you read books like the world is going to end. In my childhood bedroom, there was a growing pile of Beverly Cleary and Judy Blume books resting at the foot of my bed, too many worn-out paperbacks that couldn’t fit inside of my overflowing bookshelf. Reading the first few chapters of Sandra Cisneros’ novel along with her introduction managed to bring back vague memories of reading it. Reading her introduction especially made me realize how similar Cisneros and I are to each other. One part in particular that I connected to was Cisneros talking about her father, and how they did not have the same view on what her future should be like. He wanted her to be a weather girl, get married, have children— a boring life. Cisneros didn’t want any of that. In a way, this is like my relationship with my father. I’m not what he wanted me to become. He wanted me to get married to a man and have kids, and instead, he got a gay daughter. He wanted me to become a doctor or a lawyer or something else that has high pay. Instead, he got an aspiring journalist. A salary of $20,000 a year isn’t exactly something to write home about, but it’s something that I love, and who am I to deny myself of the life I want to live?

On being a writer, Cisneros says in her introduction that as a child, she would lie awake at night staring at the ceiling, creating pictures and stories in her mind. She’d sit at the table with paper and pen intently fixated on writing something great. This was how most of my childhood went. I was imaginative, constantly writing or reading, even though I didn’t really know what I was doing. Cisneros says about her younger self, “Where she gets these ideas of being a writer, I have no clue… She doesn’t know anything. She makes it up as she goes.” Like Cisneros, I had no idea what I was doing when I started to write. I had no prior background knowledge on how to craft a story, or how different techniques affect the meaning of my words, but I did it anyways. I was determined, much like Cisneros.

Cisneros’ experiences growing up in Chicago are ultimately what inspires and shapes her writing. Without Chicago, the story would be completely different. The setting is specific to the city and the neighborhood Cisneros grew up in, and the novel itself reflects the city as well- comprised of many little stories, all stitched together to make something bigger. (Michelle James/ City of Stories Student)

On “A House of My Own”

As someone who also struggles with anxiety, I can heavily relate to this passage. I connect with the author as someone who wants to make it on their own but is scared of failing, disapproval and having to move back home. Not being brave enough to conquer fears and become the person I am meant to be.

A House of My Own by Sandra Cisneros instantly connected with me from the first page. The passage starts off as an introduction, which is clear in that Sandra is referring to herself, while introducing herself looking back on her past life and struggles. Almost as the person she wished she would have been back then. The first two pages refer to her decorating her “office.” She had this grand allure dream of her own little sanctuary. Decorating it how she pleased and living alone. A romantic gesture where her house was her own, her little hideaway where she can escape. But anxiety overwhelms her, her fears and her defeat of failure. She decorates it with pieces and items that make her feel at “home.” Her idea of a home is her daydream of living happily on her own and the person she hopes to become. But throughout the passage she realizes it’s not always easy. As I tend to do the same. I create an image of who I would like to be. Purchasing items I think I would like as well as listening to music I might find interesting, striving to become a more in depth, “poetic” person. But in reality, I get stuck in my ways and always revert back to the same.The person I would like to be is on the tip of my tongue, just in reach but I never can seem to grasp it thanks to anxiety and fear of being exposed.

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As the story transitions, Sandra finds the courage to become the person she has always dreamed of by the influence of peers and forcing herself to participate in activities she is afraid to do. Her story escalates to a more in depth emotional approach. Sandra finally gets the house of her dreams while finally showing her mom what she achieved, all that she accomplished, and overcame within herself. A compelling story of a girl who so badly wants to get out of her own life and transform into the independent writer. A story, I think, we all as students can vastly connect to. To get on with our dreams and become the people we aspire to be. (Megahn Brophy/CoS Student)

Midway

Everyone handles trauma differently: some binge-eat, some become violent, and if you’re Junior, you steal suitcases from the airport. In the story “Midway,” by Joe Meno, Junior and his older brother, Luis, struggle to make ends meet as they have been abandoned by their father and mother.

Luis, a mere nineteen-year-old boy himself, finds grueling work and buys a busted old apartment all for Junior’s sake. Throughout the story, Luis complains about his brother, saying several times that he was “going to kill him,” but in all actuality, everything Luis does, he does for his brother.

I can relate to this. My little brother is the most important person in my life: he comes before everything. When my brother was young, he was diagnosed with mild autism. Social situations cause him major anxiety, so he tends to keep to himself. Like Luis, I invite my brother to every event and party I go to so that he feels included and has the opportunity to interact with others. I am my brother’s protector, and even though both of our parents are in our lives, if he ever needs anything, he comes to me first.

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With me living in Chicago and my brother living six hours away in Detroit, it’s harder to watch over him. Living far away from someone you love hurts, whether it’s a friend, a significant other, or your little brother. I can imagine how Luis’ heart must be breaking as he throws a going-away-party for his darling Carrie.

We make sacrifices as we grow up.

Luis gave up his life and his girl to take care of his brother. I had to leave my family for school. But both Luis and I made sacrifices to be in Chicago. (Maria Kowal/CoS Student)

So Far Removed: A Response to Native Son and Knock on Any Door

As I sit here wallowing over the death of my laptop, I can’t help but to swallow the all-encompassing $200 horror with glassy eyes- It’s a lost cause, really, the screen has a gaping fissure the size of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge right through the center. It’s quite ridiculous to be so engrossed in such a minute tragedy (if you could even call it that…) And I am one hundred percent cognizant of this.

I mean, there are A LOT of other horrific things that could occur in someone’s life, right? After all, you could get attacked by one of those ridiculous, unnerving clowns roaming about lately. Or, in the case of Richard Wright’s protagonist Bigger in Native Son, the entirety of your existence as a person of color could be undermined by prying, condescending white people who claim to want to enrich the lives of the oppressed, but are really only interested in supplementing their own reputations in the hegemony.

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Perhaps even more unfortunate is the fact that instances synonymous to that of Bigger’s are not uncommon for POC in our supposed “modern” world (hence the emergence of the “Black Lives Matter” slogan, which really shouldn’t even have to be articulated, but is in fact extremely necessary in our contorted society.) In such a case, I REALLY hope that I’m not comparable to Jan and Mary- butting my head into issues that I could never possibly comprehend; but realistically, I probably am. I mean, I have wholesome intentions- I try to bring awareness to the profound injustice that is our nation’s race relations, but ultimately, I am indeed well acquainted with the fact that my perspective is jaded by my situation in our overpoweringly whitewashed society.

In this way, I suppose that I am not only (unfortunately) like Jan and Mary from Native Son, but that I’m also comparable to the protagonist of Knock on Any Door, Nick Romano (Chapter 17 Nick Romano, at least.)

As Nick wanders through the area around the old Maxwell Street market, he tries to approach its impossibly diverse community with humility and understanding. Not once does he presuppose the individuals of the bustled, impoverished locale to be a destructive or repellant people (despite the fact that it would be incredibly easy to do so, provided the combination of circumstances and his position in the hegemony.) However, as Motley concludes, Nick was still merely “staring through the little diamonds of [the] tall wire fence” (Motley, 237). A privileged Italian-American living under the supervision of a mother who cared about his well-being, unlike the “little kids, looking like they belonged to no one” (Motley, 235) he observed during his crusade through the area, his empathy was shrouded by his inherent inability to fully comprehend the extent of their demise.

And there’s the Catch-22, if you will. Like Nick, I am a Caucasian individual with virtuous intentions- I try to view disparaging issues through a compassionate and overall, conducive lens. To my dismay, I may also appear to be like Jan and Mary, trying to speak on issues that I couldn’t possibly understand with being so far removed from the situation as a result of my white privilege. Either way, my lens is fogged. (Savana Robinson/CoS Student)

“Midway” by Meno

“Midway” is the story of a little outcast named Junior who has quite the favorite pastime: he steals suitcases at the local airport. Junior currently owns over eighteen stolen suitcases. And the reason why he does this shocked me the first time I read it: he likes to see happy people coming together and smiling and laughing after they get off the airplanes. We find out later that this boy whom we thought was a thief is really just a lonely boy with a desire for happiness in his life. The reason why he acts up so much has a lot to do with his past personal life.

Junior lives with his older brother, Luis, in a one-room apartment in Chicago. The boys are learning to adjust to life on their own; they’ve been orphaned. One day, completely out of the blue, their father abandoned them and their mother while they were parked at a stoplight; Luis and Junior were eight and five years old, respectively. His final words to his family were “I’m sorry. I can’t do this anymore” and with that, he stepped out of the car and was gone forever. Their mother abandoned them as well; the reason why she did it was mostly because of Junior. She snapped one day while she and Junior were arguing about raising Junior’s curfew. In the end, a Virgin Mary statue was beheaded in the confrontation. The next afternoon, their drawers were laying out on the front lawn. Mom had officially kicked them out of the house.

Junior’s always been the troublemaker in everyone’s eyes. He steals, he lies, and he dresses and acts different than most kids his age. Junior is only a sophomore in high school and he is going through an emotional time. The idea of Junior catches my attention because I can sort of imagine where he is coming from. As someone who’s battled with depression and low self-esteem throughout my teenage years, I acknowledge his anti-socialness. Being a lonely person while surrounded by those you love can ruin your confidence; loved ones want to talk to you and support you, however you feel like you aren’t good enough for them. The mind forces you to experience the sudden urge to leave the social situation. You probably come off as a jerk to them, because they don’t know what it’s like. But I do.

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I like the way that the story is told from Luis’ point of view because it makes sure that we see Junior’s behavior through a blurred lens. We don’t know what he is thinking in his head, just like a real-life outcast, so it leaves room to interpret his actions. Why does he act out? Why does he steal? We don’t find out until he outright tells us. That’s the aspect this story needed the most: obscurity. When we talk about a personal topic like shyness, We need obscurity if we really want to make a believable story. (Carlos Douglas Jr./CoS Student)