TEXTUAL Analysis Writing
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Applying Critical Analysis in Writing 3
Basic Writing Strategy (for Analysis) 3
Textual Analysis 4
Reading Text 4
How Should Your Analytical Essay Look Like? 4
Effective reading & writing strategies
What is Effective Reading? 5
Reading Strategies 5
Reading For Structure6
Looking at Structure as a Reader6
Understanding How to Use the RSPC Method8
Examples of Annotating Using RSPC Method9
RSPC Method Example10
Steps for Writing a Textual Analysis 15
“We’re Bossy—And Proud of It” by Kathleen Deveny 21
Student’s Analysis Outline Sample 24
Student Analysis Sample 26
“The Joy of Reading & Writing: Superman and Me” by Sherman Alexie 30
Student Analysis Sample 35
“Buzzard” by Bailey White 39
“The Armadillo’s Texas Roots Reach Back to Ancient Times” by W.F. Strong
“On Androgyny” by Virginia Woolf
“Shooting Dad” by Sarah Vowell
“The Fear of Being Alone” by Anne Taylor Fleming
“Hands of Poverty” by Jane Addams
“The Family’s Language” by Richard Rodriguez
“A Shame of Silence” by Maxine Hong Kingston
“I’d Rather Be Black Than Female” by Shirley Chisholm
“Is Google Making Us Stupid?” by Nicholas Carr
“All Men Can’t Jump” by David Stipp
“American Sci-Fi and The Other” by Ursula Le Guin
Writing Strategies & Peer Workshop
Peer Workshop (Analysis Outline)
Writing Strategies (Brainstorming the Analysis Essay)
Essay 4 Checklist
Essay 4 Recap Questions
We define analysis as a form of division. When we analyze what we are doing is dividing a subject into its parts. Imagine taking apart a device like your smartphone, a wall clock, your car’s engine, or even your laptop to see how each part inside makes everything work. This is exactly what analyzing text is all about!
Like everything in this class, the organization is key. The analytical organization of an essay allows us to examine a concept in detail to understand how the parts are interrelated and why they exist. The structure of the writing (outline and format) is important to examine because this is the way a writer presents information to an audience.
When you analyze structure, you are trying to figure out how a writer makes clear to readers complex ideas about a topic or subject. Therefore, when critically analyzing text, you are identifying and defining parts while also explaining their relationship.
APPLYING CRITICAL ANALYSIS IN WRITING
In this style of writing, the aim for you (the writer) is to present elements that make up the idea analyzed and explain the interrelationship between each. The “elements” you can write about comprise the four purposes of writing and their characteristics, the different types of styles of writing, all the patterns of organization, outline structure, basic appeals of an argument, rhetorical strategies—basically, everything we have discussed in this course!
Remember, the ability to read and analyze a written work is an essential skill in many academic fields as well as in understanding daily parts of life.
For this portion of the course, you are asked to read analytically. You will read not for entertainment but to read like a writer. This means that you will read to “take apart” someone else’s writing to determine and comprehend how the writing is put together.
Analytical reading takes effort, first to become familiar with a piece of writing, and then understand what the writer is doing to relay his or her message to an audience.
The purpose of a Textual Analysis is to move beyond telling what another essay means by including “analysis” of how another piece of writing is written. The task of the writer is to demonstrate to your reader that you have examined the ways another essay is composed, to convey its ideas to the reader.
An analytical essay is persuasive because you’ll be trying to persuade your readers that you see how and why another writer has used certain techniques and strategies to present and develop an idea. The most effective way to improve your writing is by understanding, studying, and analyzing a more skilled writer’s work.
So, How Should Your Analytical Essay Look?
Figures of Speech
Narration (Stages of Events; Narrative Modes)
Four Purposes of Writing
ANALYTICAL ESSAY 🡪 Purpose, Pattern, Process
EFFECTIVE READING & WRITING STRATEGIES
What is effective reading?
Effective reading has two basic components:
Almost everything you will read (or write) at the university-level will involve having a point and supporting that point. If you understand this basic quality of college reading and writing, you can become a more effective reader and writer.
A strong reader makes a strong writer!
The following strategies should be used to read and comprehend college-level text. When reading a text, actively mark the text with a highlighter—or better yet, use a pencil to make comments or marks identifying key points or ideas that stand out. Remember, improving comprehension and retention of ideas in an article or a book requires slowing down and being more active participants as you read.
Before starting to read, pause, and ask the following questions that can prepare your mindset for reading analytically. Posing and answering these questions will also better prepare you to approach the text. These questions are easy—ask:
What is it?
Who reads it?
What’s it for?
Consider how the answer to each question below helps point you in the direction to understand your text. The first question, what is it? asks you to find what type of writing the text is. The second question, who reads it? asks you to determine the intended audience. The last question, what is it for? asks you to define the author’s purpose for writing the text.
When you are reading a piece of text (an essay or article), consider first asking:
Reading for Structure
The reading (And writing) process has other similarities within these three questions. As you read through a text, you may be—at least in your mind—working out of the structure of the text.
The structure is the way the writer has organized supporting points and details to explain the main idea.
When you prepare to write a paper, you must brainstorm to figure out what your point (or purpose) is, and then brainstorm further to determine your supporting points and detail and how you will organize that discussion to present them effectively to your readers.
Looking at Structure as a reader
Even at the paragraph level, you, as a reader can look for an author’s point and supporting details.
As you read or write further into an essay, as a reader, you likely will ask questions about the meaning of ideas in the text, not only what the other intended to convey, but how your experiences relate to the reading.
What to do as a writer:
The following are strategies to read and comprehend college-level texts. If you are reading a text to study for a class, you also should be:
UNDERSTANDING HOW TO USE RSPC METHOD
What is the RSPC Method?
RSPC Method is an interactive reading strategy that helps you to develop stronger comprehension skills for reading the academic text.
RSPC stands for:
Often academic reading can be just as daunting as academic writing. The RSPC Method helps in removing the intimidation factor of reading academic text by slowing down the process to help retain more information.
STEP 1: READ
In this first step you will read the piece of text for as long as you feel you can retain information. This reading can be a few sentences to a paragraph in length. It’s recommended that you take it in increments (or short passages) to better create a “bread-crumb” effect in collecting information. You might also consider underlining and highlighting important words, passages that you know are important.
STEP 2: STOP
Get in the habit of stopping and thinking about what you just read. As stated before, it’s recommended that you stop after a few sentences to a paragraph. However, also while reading, note whether the text is discussing something important. Is it explaining an idea? Is it defining a term? Is it providing pertinent statistics and data that, although you are not sure what it is, you know is important? Then, STOP! Think about what you are reading!
STEP 3: Paraphrase
To paraphrase is to reword the meaning of the text by using your own words. Paraphrasing requires you to practice summarizing information, once again, using your own words. Pay special attention to the words and passages you have underlined or highlighted to help you collect your ideas. This step may take a while, but try your best! Your paraphrase can be a few sentences or as you become more of an expert just a phrase or set of words. Get in the habit of writing your summary/paraphrase in the margins of the text. Whenever possible also note any connections from previous paragraphs or sections. This creates the “bread-crumbs” you need to follow your ideas and will be extremely helpful to the next step.
STEP 4: Connect
This is the synthesis portion of the reading method where you begin to draw connections (or “inferences”) about what you are reading. The task is not only to connect ideas but to also apply the text to our lives, society, current events, people, etc. This part can get tricky, but once again, try your best. Connecting ideas becomes easier as you become more well-read and are familiar with various topics.
Examples of Annotating using RSPC Method
When using the RSPC Method, you are essentially annotating the text. Making annotations on texts means marking up the page by highlighting, underlining, circling words, or numbering, and, most importantly, writing short meaningful notes in the margins or surroundings of the text. It is an active reading process in which the reader reacts to the texts by making brief notes, comments, or questions as one reads, and as a result, it helps the reader connect to the material.
Let’s take a look at an example of annotation using the RSPC Method:
The RSPC Method using annotation is an excellent strategy to help monitor comprehension and improve recall as one reads. Annotations are also a great tool to help the reader quickly find important information as they go back to review the text, whether for study, research, or enjoyment purposes.
Let’s take a look at another example on the next page. Note that what we are looking for in this example is not the content, but the action of annotating using READ, STOP, PARAPHRASE, CONNECT.
STEPS FOR WRITING A TEXTUAL ANALYSIS
STEP 1: Familiarize Yourself with the Text
STEP 2: Ask Questions!
STEP 3: Write Your Thesis Statement
After you’ve studied the text and asked questions about it, the next step is to decide on a focus for your paper. Ask yourself: What is the main point of your analysis?
A thesis statement should state your position, narrow your topic, and set up a pattern of organization. If you examine three important passages, indicate that either explicitly or implicitly. A sentence thesis statement works best.
EXAMPLE #1: David Tomas Martinez’s use of subtle imagery, persuasive diction, and powerful metaphor leads the reader to conclude that we, like the “The Only Mexican,” should view suffering as an inevitable part of life.
EXAMPLE #2: In “Notes of A Native Son,” James Baldwin reflects on the death of his father as a catalyst to purge the resentment and rage built up over the years of living in a segregated United States.”
STEP 4: OUTLINE YOUR PAPER!
For your Textual Analysis paper, you must follow this outline:
Your Textual Analysis Paper will have:
Topic Sentence(s) — introduce the main idea of each body paragraph and outlines what aspect of the text or technique is being analyzed. A topic sentence should support your thesis and also show the scope of the entire paragraph.
Direct Quotes/Examples from Text — Must be relevant and must illustrate the technique you are analyzing. Direct quotes/examples should be smoothly integrated into your paper.
Analysis of the quote/example — Don’t just state the quote or write the example, but you must articulate the connections or patterns you have found.
Due: Sunday, November 8th at 11:59 PM
Length: Minimum 750 Words
Instructions: After reading the essay assigned to you in this packet, you will write an evaluative-analytical paper. The essay must demonstrate critical thinking and address the objectives of analysis writing detailed below.
The objectives below are requirements to have your essay accepted. It is the criteria in which your paper will be evaluated by your professor. Please review the course packet to help guide you or ask your professor or a writing tutor in the Learning Lab for assistance.
For your Analysis essay, you will adhere to the following outline structure. You can see student samples of Analysis Outlines and Essays in this course packet.
Summary (1 paragraph)
Analysis (2-3 paragraphs)
Evaluation (1 paragraph)
Applying established criteria for what constitutes a successful expressive, referential, persuasive, or literary essay, discuss 2-3 specific ways in which this essay is or is not successful. Also discuss whether the chosen methods of organization are effective or not and why.
ANALYTICAL ESSAY SAMPLE
WE’RE BOSSY—AND PROUD OF IT!
By Kathleen Deveny
My daughter is a little bossy. It’s not surprising, really, because I’m a little bossy. (OK, some would say more than a little bossy.) But I’ve given up trying to change that aspect of myself, and I’m not too concerned about my daughter, either. It’s not that I think my dear child’s behavior is beyond reproach. I often worry that she can be unkind to other kids without even realizing it. I am trying hard to help her learn the art of empathy and teach her to be respectful of others. She could do better at all those things. So, could I.
But I am going to stop fretting about bossiness for one simple reason: I have rarely heard anyone describe a little boy as bossy. Boys are assertive and confident, active and rambunctious. They may also be aggressive, wild or disruptive. But bossy is a label that parents, babysitters and teachers apply most often to the sugar-and-spice gender. Little girls hurl it at each other as an epithet. It may be partly because girls tend to be more verbal than boys, says Wendy Mogel, a child psychologist in L.A., and that comes off as bossy. She also believes that because of both nature and nurture, girls take more responsibility than boys for their social environment. Which leads to those “You sit there. No! Over there” – discussions I sometimes hear my daughter having with her friends.
Perhaps. But labeling little girls as bossy is “incredibly sexist,” says child psychiatrist Elizabeth Berger, author of “Raising Kids With Character.” The urge to push other people around is deeply ingrained in human nature, but “the same presentation in a boy would be applauded as vivid and courageous and deserving of praise,” she says.
Sure, some kids—and plenty of adults—go too far. Being physically aggressive or bullying is never acceptable. “Bossy, to me, is something that’s going to turn people off,” says Sue Wynne, a mother of four girls—ages 4, 8, 12 and 15—from Lincolnshire, Ill. “A good leader isn’t bossy.” But what is the difference, exactly, between being bossy and being assertive? We ask girls to walk a fine line between being strong and being likable. It’s a line we typically allow boys to trample.
“Telling other people what to do is a leadership quality,” says Jennifer Allyn, a managing director at PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP. “There’s another B word at work that we’re all afraid of.” And that’s the essence of it. Our fear is that bossy girls grow up to be those abrasive women around our offices. (Oops, maybe that’s me!) That kind of behavior might be tolerated from men in authority. But we demand that even the most powerful women play nice. Men are respected; women are liked. Allow your daughter to be bossy on the playground, and she may just grow up to be like Hillary Clinton. (Oh, my God! The first serious female presidential candidate! Get that kid into therapy!)
In the end, playground justice may determine the fate of bossy girls. What they are often trying to do is to persuade a group of people to go along with them. Persuading a group and being a leader are excellent qualities. Not considering the feelings of others or pushing your agenda to the exclusion of all others are awful qualities. They often don’t work. But girls need to try out bossy behavior in order to learn which strategies are most effective, says Allyn, who has a 10-year-old daughter named Jordan.
Maybe I think bossy behavior is acceptable because I actually am a boss. Or maybe I was able to rise to a management position because I’ve always been bossy—something my mother confirms without hesitation. “Women have a tougher time getting ahead,” says Mary Sirl, mother of Rae, 5, and Ella, 3. “So what’s wrong with making your demands known? I want bossy to morph into powerful, assertive, ambitious and, of course, kind. Those are all the qualities that will help my girls get ahead.”
Kathleen Deveny is the Assistant Managing Editor of Newsweek Magazine. She is also the Managing Director of Kekst & Co. Inc. She holds a Masters Degree in Journalism from the University of Minnesota. Her business articles have appeared in Newsweek and Bloomberg.
ANALYTICAL OUTLINE SAMPLE
I’m Not Bossy, I’m The Boss
SAMPLE TEXTUAL ANALYSIS
Paper #4 – Analysis Essay
November 12, 2019
I’m Not Bossy. I’m the Boss
In “We’re Bossy-And Proud of It,” by Kathleen Deveny, the author discusses how women grow up to be bossy, starting from a young age on the playground, to coming of age to be powerful, assertive, and ambitious women. The main point is about the qualities a female needs to have to advance in her career and relationships. Although the label “bossy” may be sexist and a sign of bad qualities, or even too aggressive, the article explains that many women believe it to be an excellent trait. The author’s primary purpose is referential and reasonably effective in achieving its purpose by using comparison/contrast and classification as well as more personalized information from her observations.
The author’s strong referential purpose drives the essay. She has a thesis, “Bossy people develop out of environments in which others initially bend to a request that may not be appropriate, but the bossy people often later find professional strength in their bossiness” (Deveny 1). Deveney uses topic-oriented language to get her point across, using diction. She uses specific words such as “bossy,” (1) “behavior” (2) “aggressive,” and “quality” (3) throughout the essay. These wordings describe the characteristics of young girls and women in the essay. She also includes valid evidence, such as the study that was done at several grade schools, identifying bossy behavior starting as early as first grade, and intensifying as the child ages (2).
The essay has a second rhetorical purpose, which is expressive. Deveney also uses subjective language such as my, I’ve, I am, and I throughout the opening paragraph and into the next paragraph. One example of subjective language is when Deveney stated, “But I’ve given up that aspect of myself, and I’m not too concerned about my daughter, either”(2). Her personal examples that are somewhat expressive, also contribute to the referential topic.
The essay includes several patterns of organization, which include description, narration, and classification in the form of comparison-contrast. Deveny uses description when she illustrates boys as “assertive and confident, active and rambunctious” (2). She is defining for readers the ways how boys tend to act and carry themselves. The narration is primarily used in expressive essays because they are in first-person encounters. However, in this referential essay, narration seems to be used to personalize the topic. In the opening paragraph, she uses the narration as a way to talk about an example of her daughter being very bossy and how the author came to worry about how her daughter was treating others. Deveney writes, “From this incident, I began to consider that my dear child’s behavior was not beyond reproach”(1). Another method of organization used is classification in the form of compare-contrast. There are general categories of bossy and not bossy discussed across the essay, for instance, “In any classroom, about 10 percent of the children will be bossy, and the rest will struggle to deal with that bossy 10 percent” (3). The pattern also is used to present bossy as being a positive trait, as when Jennifer Allyn said, “Allow your daughter to be bossy on the playground, and she may just grow up to be like Hillary Clinton” (qtd in Deveny 3).
The essay was a success, considering it covered the referential purpose well with adequate information from research and interviews. Deveney stayed focused on the bossy people, as reflected in the usage of diction and topic-oriented language throughout the essay. The essay achieves a less formal tone through the secondary, expressive purpose. Her use of a variety of patterns, including classification as the overall pattern to organize the discussion, strengthened the essay. The description was key to show effective development, and great examples through narration made her essay more interesting. Although the essay might have been confusing with two purposes being present, Deveney did an effective job of controlling the focus mostly toward the referential purpose, making for a successful essay.
Deveny, Kathleen. “We’re Bossy-And Proud of It.” Newsweek, 21 June 2008 pp 1-3.
THE JOY OF READING AND WRITING: SUPERMAN AND ME
By Sherman Alexie
Los Angeles Times
April 19, 1998
I learned to read with a Superman comic book. Simple enough, I suppose. I cannot recall which particular Superman comic book I read, nor can I remember which villain he fought in that issue. I cannot remember the plot, nor the means by which I obtained the comic book. What I can remember is this: I was three years old, a Spokane Indian boy living with his family on the Spokane Indian Reservation in eastern Washington state. We were poor by most standards, but one of my parents usually managed to find some minimum-wage job or another, which made us middle-class by reservation standards. I had a brother and three sisters. We lived on a combination of irregular paychecks, hope, fear and government surplus food.
My father, who is one of the few Indians who went to Catholic school on purpose, was an avid reader of westerns, spy thrillers, murder mysteries, gangster epics, basketball player biographies and anything else he could find. He bought his books by the pound at Dutch’s Pawn Shop, Goodwill, Salvation Army and Value Village. When he had extra money, he bought new novels at supermarkets, convenience stores and hospital gift shops. Our house was filled with books. They were stacked in crazy piles in the bathroom, bedrooms and living room. In a fit of unemployment-inspired creative energy, my father built a set of bookshelves and soon filled them with a random assortment of books about the Kennedy assassination, Watergate, the Vietnam War and the entire 23-book series of the Apache westerns. My father loved books, and since I loved my father with an aching devotion, I decided to love books as well.
I can remember picking up my father’s books before I could read. The words themselves were mostly foreign, but I still remember the exact moment when I first understood, with a sudden clarity, the purpose of a paragraph. I didn’t have the vocabulary to say “paragraph,” but I realized that a paragraph was a fence that held words. The words inside a paragraph worked together for a common purpose. They had some specific reason for being inside the same fence. This knowledge delighted me. I began to think of everything in terms of paragraphs. Our reservation was a small paragraph within the United States. My family’s house was a paragraph, distinct from the other paragraphs of the LeBrets to the north, the Fords to our south and the Tribal School to the west. Inside our house, each family member existed as a separate paragraph but still had genetics and common experiences to link us. Now, using this logic, I can see my changed family as an essay of seven paragraphs: mother, father, older brother, the deceased sister, my younger twin sisters and our adopted little brother.
At the same time, I was seeing the world in paragraphs, I also picked up that Superman comic book. Each panel, complete with picture, dialogue and narrative was a three-dimensional paragraph. In one panel, Superman breaks through a door. His suit is red, blue and yellow. The brown door shatters into many pieces. I look at the narrative above the picture. I cannot read the words, but I assume it tells me that “Superman is breaking down the door.” Aloud, I pretend to read the words and say, “Superman is breaking down the door.” Words, dialogue, also float out of Superman’s mouth. Because he is breaking down the door, I assume he says, “I am breaking down the door.” Once again, I pretend to read the words and say aloud, “I am breaking down the door” In this way, I learned to read.
This might be an interesting story all by itself. A little Indian boy teaches himself to read at an early age and advances quickly. He reads “Grapes of Wrath” in kindergarten when other children are struggling through “Dick and Jane.” If he’d been anything but an Indian boy living on the reservation, he might have been called a prodigy. But he is an Indian boy living on the reservation and is simply an oddity. He grows into a man who often speaks of his childhood in the third-person, as if it will somehow dull the pain and make him sound more modest about his talents.
A smart Indian is a dangerous person, widely feared and ridiculed by Indians and non- Indians alike. I fought with my classmates on a daily basis. They wanted me to stay quiet when the non-Indian teacher asked for answers, for volunteers, for help. We were Indian children who were expected to be stupid. Most lived up to those expectations inside the classroom but subverted on the outside. They struggled with basic reading in school but could remember how to sing a few dozen pow wow songs. They were monosyllabic in front of their non-Indian teachers but could tell complicated stories and jokes at the dinner table. They submissively ducked their heads when confronted by a non-Indian adult but would slug it out with the Indian bully who was ten years older. As Indian children, we were expected to fail in the non-Indian world. Those who failed were ceremonially accepted by other Indians and appropriately pitied by non-Indians.
I refused to fail. I was smart. I was arrogant. I was lucky. I read books late into the night, until I could barely keep my eyes open. I read books at recess, then during lunch, and in the few minutes left after I had finished my classroom assignments. I read books in the car when my family traveled to powwows or basketball games. In shopping malls, I ran to the bookstores and read bits and pieces of as many books as I could. I read the books my father brought home from the pawnshops and secondhand. I read the books I borrowed from the library. I read the backs of cereal boxes. I read the newspaper. I read the bulletins posted on the walls of the school, the clinic, the tribal offices, the post office. I read junk mail. I read auto-repair manuals. I read magazines. I read anything that had words and paragraphs. I read with equal parts joy and desperation. I loved those books, but I also knew that love had only one purpose. I was trying to save my life.
Despite all the books I read, I am still surprised I became a writer. I was going to be a pediatrician. These days, I write novels, short stories, and poems. I visit schools and teach creative writing to Indian kids. In all my years in the reservation school system, I was never taught how to write poetry, short stories or novels. I was certainly never taught that Indians wrote poetry, short stories and novels. Writing was something beyond Indians. I cannot recall a single time that a guest teacher visited the reservation. There must have been visiting teachers. Who were they? Where are they now? Do they exist? I visit the schools as often as possible. The Indian kids crowd the classroom. Many are writing their own poems, short stories and novels. They have read my books. They have read many other books. They look at me with bright eyes and arrogant wonder. They are trying to save their lives. Then there are the sullen and already defeated Indian kids who sit in the back rows and ignore me with theatrical precision. The pages of their notebooks are empty. They carry neither pencil nor pen. They stare out the window. They refuse and resist. “Books,” I say to them. “Books,” I say. I throw my weight against their locked doors. The door holds. I am smart. I am arrogant. I am lucky. I am trying to save our lives.
Sherman Alexie (b. 1966) was raised on the Spokane Indian Reservation in Wellpinit, Washington. Alexie is one of the foremost Native American writers. He is best known for his collection of short stories, The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven (1993), which won the PEN/Hemingway Award for Best First Book of Fiction, two novels Reservation Blues (1991) and Dangerous Signals (1999). He wrote the screenplay to the independent film Smoke Signals (1999), an adaptation of one of his short stories. His memoir You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me (2017) dealt with his childhood on the reservation as well as his estranged mother.
SAMPLE TEXTUAL ANALYSIS
Paper #4 -Analytical Writing
July 31, 2019
The Rise of the Superman
In “The Joy of Reading and Writing: Superman and Me” by Sherman Alexie, the writer tells us about how he taught himself how to read while struggling being a Native American boy. Alexie’s family was lower-class Native American on a reservation. Despite this life, Alexie’s home was always filled with books in every room. Alexie managed to read all the books and then he moved to reading Superman comic books. Throughout his school years, Alexie felt different from the rest of his classmates and fought against meeting the expectation of being a “stupid Indian” (13). It surprised and disappointed Alexie that his classmates were too close minded to even try to escape that stereotype. Alexie refused to fail and went on to try and read everything that had words and paragraphs. He eventually became a famous writer and now visits schools to inspire other Native Americans to read. In Alexie’s essay, the author successfully uses expressive and literary elements to show how Native Americans are expected to stick to a stereotype while persuading his audience of the importance of reading.
Alexie uses expressive elements to show his need to break away from other’s expectations the way Superman breaks down barriers. Alexie explains that Superman “breaking down the door” (13) is a metaphor in the comic book. The author likes to read those lines out loud several times, showing readers that it was him speaking to the world that he is about to break through that door that keeps him trapped in a box of expectations. Alexie states that “[t]hey wanted me to stay quiet when the non-Indian teacher asked for answers… We were Indian children who were expected to be stupid” (13). In this example, the writer’s classmates tried stopping him from his goals. The other children were okay with simply being below average and just not exceeding expectations. Alexie, however, did not want to fail because he wanted more. He states “I refuse to fail. I was smart. I was arrogant. I was lucky” (13). These sentences show readers Alexie’s ambitions to succeed which establish the author as a credible authority helping persuade his audience of the importance of his inspirational story.
Alexie also uses descriptive techniques to demonstrate to readers exactly what he was seeing as a kid. Alexie places readers inside his childhood home when he shows his audience that his “[h]ouse was filled with books. They were stacked in crazy piles in the bathroom, bedrooms, and living room” (12). By giving his readers this image of a small house with so many books and magazines, it further pulls his audience into Alexie’s personal experience. The author provides more details by saying that his “father built a set of bookshelves and soon filled them with a random assortment of books about the Kennedy assassination, Watergate, the Vietnam War, and the entire book series of the Apache westerns” (12). This imagery helps his readers clearly see Alexie’s bookshelves and the exact books found in them, making it easier to understand the author’s past.
Alexie organizes his essay using literary narration that is inspiring and at the same time persuading his audience of the importance of reading. Alexie creates conflict through his childhood expectations. He writes of this tension, “[a]s Indian children, we were expected to fail in the non-Indian World” (13). Alexie explains that those who failed and lived up to this expectation were “ceremonially accepted by other Indians and appropriately pitied by non-Indians” (14). Readers learn that the main conflict the writer faces comes with the realization that he is disappointed that his own people lower their own standards. His readers are also entertained and excited to learn how Alexie overcomes these obstacles in his life to succeed. Using cultural tension Alexie inspires his readers when he writes “I am still surprised I became a writer. I was going to be a pediatrician… Writing was something beyond Indians” (14). This last statement uses logical reasoning addressing readers to understand that anyone can be anything he or she wants to be, not only what society wants.
Alexie successfully uses expressive and literary techniques to show readers his feelings while using cultural conflict and logical reasoning to convince readers of why reading changes lives. He effectively establishes himself as an authority as a successful author of many books who overcame his past and the society’s stereotypes to “break through” just like Superman did in comic books. By telling his story of how he learned to read in a house full of books, his readers understand how society places unfair expectations and root for the author to help other Native Americans to also break through doors to succeed through reading.
Alexie, Sherman. “The Joy of Reading and Writing: Superman and Me.” Los Angeles Times, April 19, 1998, pp 11-14.
SAMPLE ANALYSIS ESSAYS
By Bailey White
There was something in the road. I drove closer to it. It was a buzzard eating a dead armadillo. I got closer. It was a big buzzard. And I never seen a buzzard’s tail feathers so bleached and pale.
That buzzard better move, I thought. I’d never had to slow down for a buzzard before. They always lope out of the way. I got closer.
The buzzard turned his head and looked at me. He stood up on his big yellow legs. His head was snow white. His eyes were gold. He wasn’t a buzzard. He was a bald eagle.
Then, not until after I had brought the car to a full stop, he spread his wings and with a slow swoop lifted himself into the air. He turned his head and gave me a long look through the car windshield with his level yellow eyes. Then he slowly wheeled up into the sky until he was just a black dot against the blue.
I turned the car off. I thought about that glare he had given me: What are you doing here? It had said. When I got started again, I drove slower and felt smaller. I think it does us all good to get looked at like that now and then by a wild animal.
Bailey White is an American author and regular commentator for National Public Radio’s All Things Considered. White has published four books, Mama Makes Up Her Mind, Sleeping at the Starlite Motel, Quite the Year for Plums, and Nothing with Strings.
Critical Reading Questions
ANALYSIS: Write an analysis essay explaining how White uses description and imagery to enhance the impact of her narrative.
THE ARMADILLO’S TEXAS ROOTS REACH BACK TO ANCIENT TIMES
By W. F. Strong
The Texas Standard
Arts & Culture: Stories from Texas
On these warm summer nights, I see them often as I drive home on FM 803. They sometimes stop, frozen for a few seconds, their eyes reflecting my headlights in an eerie red – and then they dash off into giant clumps of prickly pear, where predators can’t follow.
The Spaniards named them armadillos – “the little armored ones.” It was a term of affection and all who have lived in this land called Texas ever since have been fond of them. To me, they are the small animal version of an armored-up Humvee. And they are truly armored. A man in east Texas shot one with a .38 caliber pistol and the bullet ricocheted off the armadillo’s thick plating and hit the man in the face. He recovered. The armadillo could not be found.
They are impressive survivors. In fact, in the land before Texas, four million years ago, their distant relatives roamed the earth. The original armadillos, called glyptodons, reached a weight of two tons, about the size of a white rhino. Plus, they had club-like spiky tails. If they were running around Texas today, we wouldn’t have roadkill, we’d have car kill. We’d call them armadigantes – armored giants. We’d need thick steel fences for them, probably electrified like those in the original Jurassic Park movie. Not sure you’d want to go home with the armadillo in such circumstances.
Speaking of Jurassic Park, scientists, perhaps inspired by a scene from that film, compared the fossil remains of ancient glyptodons, to our modern armadillos. In 2016, two geneticists analyzed the ancient DNA of a glyptodon, comparing it with that of modern armadillos and found evidence that they are directly related. Why the original was so large or why its descendants became miniaturized is an unsolved mystery.
In Texas, the nine-banded armadillo is the most common, and down in South America they have what we now call “giant armadillos.” But they’re only six feet long if you include the tail and weigh 70 pounds. Still, if I saw one of those around here, I think I would go the other way.
At the other end of the scale is the fairy armadillo, also from South America. It is only about four inches long and pink. You could hold it in the palm of your hand. Though our Texas armadillo can’t roll into a perfect ball, like the Brazilian three-banded one, it does have this special ability: the females give birth to four identical quadruplets every time, producing as many as 16 pups in a lifetime. Bet they’re glad they don’t have to send them all to college.
The Texas armadillo – the nine-banded one – has certainly worked its way into iconic status here. There are armadillo t-shirts, tattoos galore, armadillo lamps (no armadillos hurt in the making of the lamps), armadillo campers and trailers and armadillo restaurants that don’t serve armadillo. However, during the Great Depression, an era many blamed on President Herbert Hoover, food was scarce, and many people in Texas hunted and ate armadillos, calling them “poor man’s pork” or “Hoover hogs.” Later on, people blamed leprosy in Texas on armadillo meat.
No doubt, the best-known armadillo business, open from 1970-1980, was the Armadillo World Headquarters in Austin. The nightclub was named after the armadillo in order to commemorate the fact that it was located in the old National Guard Armory. Though long out of business, the Armadillo World Headquarters helped lay the foundation for the world-class live music scene that thrives in Austin today.
To properly honor all the positive influences of the armadillo’s mystique in Texas, the 1995 legislature declared the nine-banded armadillo the official State Small Mammal of Texas. The law reads in part:
WHEREAS: …The armadillo, is a hardy, pioneering creature that chose to begin migrating here at about the time that Texas became a state; and
WHEREAS: The armadillo possesses many remarkable and unique traits, some of which parallel the attributes that distinguish a true Texan, such as a deep respect and need for the land, the ability to change and adapt, and a fierce undying love for freedom; and;
WHEREAS: [The armadillo is] a proud and indomitable as the state from which it hails.
RESOLVED: That the 74th Legislature of the State of Texas hereby . . . designate(s) the armadillo as the official Small State Mammal of Texas.
The Texas Longhorn was made the Official Large State Mammal in the same legislation.
And then we also have the unofficial honoring of the little armored ones in a famous song written by Gary P. Nunn. So, the Armadillo is distinguished by legislation, protected by law, and immortalized in song. Is Texas a great country or what?
Critical Reading Questions
ANALYSIS: Write an analysis essay explaining how Strong uses historical examples to explain his topic?
VIRGINIA WOOLF’S “ON ANDROGYNY”
Thesis: “In Virginia Woolf’s “On Androgyny,” the author explains the dual nature of human kind by arguing that psychological androgyny is essential for creativity.”
Points of Discussion:
By Virginia Woolf
Now it was bringing from one side of the street to the other diagonally a girl in patent leather boots, and then a young man in a maroon overcoat; it was also bringing a taxi-cab; and it brought all three together at a point directly beneath my window; where the taxi stopped; and the girl and the young man stopped; and they got into the taxi; and then the cab glided off as if it were swept on by the current elsewhere.
The sight was ordinary enough; what was strange was the rhythmical order with which my imagination had invested it; and the fact that the ordinary sight of two people getting into a cab had the power to communicate something of their own seeming satisfaction. The sight of two people coming down the street and meeting at the corner seems to ease the mind of some strain, I thought, watching the taxi turn and make off. Perhaps to think, as I had been thinking these two days, of one sex as distinct from the other is an effort. It interferes with the unity of the mind. Now that effort had ceased, and that unity had been restored by seeing two people come together and get into a taxicab. The mind is certainly a very mysterious organ, I reflected, drawing my head in from the window, about which nothing whatever is known, though we depend upon it so completely.
Why do I feel that there are severances and oppositions in the mind, as there are strains from obvious causes on the body? What does one mean by “the unity of the mind,” I pondered, for clearly the mind has so great a power of concentrating at any point at any moment that it seems to have no single state of being. It can separate itself from the people in the street, for example, and think of itself as apart from them, at an upper window looking down on them. Or it can think with other people spontaneously, as, for instance, in a crowd waiting to hear some piece of news read out. It can think back through its fathers or through its mothers, as I have said that a woman writing thinks back through her mother.
Again, if one is a woman one is often surprised by a sudden splitting off of consciousness, say in walking down Whitehall, when from being the natural inheritor of that civilization, she becomes, on the contrary, outside of it, alien and critical. Clearly the mind is always altering its focus and bringing the world into different perspectives. But some of these states of mind seem, even if adopted spontaneously, to be less comfortable than others. In order to keep oneself continuing in them one is unconsciously holding something back, and gradually the repression becomes an effort. But there may be some state of mind in which one could continue without effort because nothing is required to be held back. And this perhaps, I thought, coming in from the window, is one of them. For certainly when I saw the couple get into the taxicab the mind felt as if, after being divided, it had come together again in a natural fusion.
The obvious reason would be that it is natural for the sexes to co-operate. One has a profound, if irrational, instinct in favour of the theory that the union of man and woman makes for the greatest satisfaction, the most complete happiness. But the sight of the two people getting into the taxi and the satisfaction it gave me made me also ask whether there are two sexes in the mind corresponding to the two sexes in the body, and whether they also require to be united in order to get complete satisfaction and happiness.
And I went on amateurishly to sketch a plan of the soul so that in each of us two powers preside, one male, one female: and in the man’s brain, the man predominates over the woman, and in the woman’s brain, the woman predominates over the man. The normal and comfortable state of being is that when the two live in harmony together, spiritually cooperating. If one is a man, still the woman part of the brain must have effect; and a woman also must have intercourse with the man in her. Coleridge perhaps meant this when he said that a great mind is androgynous. It is when this fusion takes place that the mind is fully fertilized and uses all its faculties.
Virginia Woolf (January 25, 1882-March 28, 1941) was an English writer, considered one of the most important modernist 20th-century author and thinker, as well as a pioneer in the use of stream-of-consciousness as a narrative device. Woolf is best known for her novels Mrs. Dalloway (1925), To The Lighthouse (1927) and Orlando (1928). She is also known for her personal essays, most notably for her book-length essay A Room of One’s Own (1929) for which this excerpt is included.
Critical Reading Questions
ANALYSIS: Write an analysis essay explaining how Woolf uses symbolism and metaphor to establish a deeper meaning?
SARAH VOWELL’S “SHOOTING DAD”
Thesis: “Sarah Vowell’s “Shotting Dad” uses the author’s personal experiences to classify and define her relationship between the author and her father.”
Points of Discussion:
By Sarah Vowell
If you were passing by the house where I grew up during my teenage years and it happened to be before Election Day, you wouldn’t have needed to come inside to see that it was a house divided. You could have looked at the Democratic campaign poster in the upstairs window and the Republican one in the downstairs window and seen our home for the Civil War battleground it was. I’m not saying who was the Democrat or who was the Republican—my father or I—but I will tell you that I have never subscribed to Guns & Ammo, that I did not plaster the family vehicle with National Rifle Association stickers, and that hunter’s orange was never my color.
About the only thing my father and I agree on is the Constitution, though I’m partial to the First Amendment, while he’s always favored the Second.
I am a gunsmith’s daughter. I like to call my parents’ house, located on a quiet residential street in Bozeman, Montana, the United States of Firearms. Guns were everywhere: the so-called pretty ones like the circa 1850 walnut muzzleloader hanging on the wall, Dad’s clients’ fixer-uppers leaning into corners, an entire rack right next to the TV. I had to move revolvers out of my way to make room for a bowl of Rice Krispies on the kitchen table.
I was eleven when we moved into that Bozeman house. We had never lived in town before, and this was a college town at that. We came from Oklahoma—a dusty little Muskogee County nowhere called Braggs. My parents’ property there included an orchard, a horse pasture, and a couple of acres of woods. I knew our lives had changed one morning not long after we moved to Montana when, during breakfast, my father heard a noise and jumped out of his chair. Grabbing a BB gun, he rushed out the front door. Standing in the yard, he started shooting at crows. My mother sprinted after him screaming, “Pat, you might ought to check, but I don’t think they do that up here!” From the look on his face, she might as well have told him that his American citizenship had been revoked. He shook his head, mumbling, “Why, shooting crows is a national pastime, like baseball and apple pie.” Personally, I preferred baseball and apple pie. I looked up at those crows flying away and thought, I’m going to like it here.
Dad and I started bickering in earnest when I was fourteen, after the 1984 Democratic National Convention. I was so excited when Walter Mondale chose Geraldine Ferraro as his running mate that I taped the front page of the newspaper with her picture on it to the refrigerator door. But there was some sort of mysterious gravity surge in the kitchen. Somehow, that picture ended up in the trash all the way across the room.
Nowadays, I giggle when Dad calls me on Election Day to cheerfully inform me that he has once again canceled out my vote, but I was not always so mature. There were times when I found the fact that he was a gunsmith horrifying. And just weird. All he ever cared about were guns. All I ever cared about was art. There were years and years when he hid out by himself in the garage making rifle barrels and I holed up in my room reading Allen Ginsberg poems, and we were incapable of having a conversation that didn’t end in an argument.
Our house was partitioned off into territories. While the kitchen and the living room were well within the DMZ,’ the respective workspaces governed by my father and me were jealously guarded totalitarian states in which each of us declared ourselves dictator. Dad’s shop was a messy disaster area, a labyrinth of lathes. Its walls were hung with the mounted antlers of deer he’d bagged, forming a makeshift museum of death. The available flat surfaces were buried tinder a million scraps of paper on which he sketched his mechanical inventions in blue ballpoint pen. And the floor, carpeted with spiky metal shavings, was a tetanus shot waiting to happen. My domain was the cramped, cold space known as the music room. It was also a messy disaster area, an obstacle course of musical instruments—piano, trumpet, baritone horn, valve trombone, various percussion doodads (bells!), and recorders. A framed por trait of the French composer Claude Debussy was nailed to the wall. The available flat surfaces were buried under piles of staff paper, on which I penciled in the pompous orchestra music given titles like “Prelude to the Green Door” (named after an O. Henry short story by the way, not the watershed porn flick Behind the Green Door) I started writing in junior high.
It has been my experience that in order to impress potential suitors, skip s the teen Debussy anecdotes and stick with the always attention-getting line “My dad makes guns.” Though it won’t cause the guy to like me any better, it will make him handle the inevitable breakup with diplomacy—just in case I happen to have any loaded family heirlooms lying around the house.
But the fact is, I have only shot a gun once and once was plenty. My twin sister, Amy, and I were six years old—six—when Dad decided that it was high time we learned how to shoot. Amy remembers the day he handed us the gun for the first time differently. She liked it.
Amy shared our father’s enthusiasm for firearms and the quick-draw w cowboy mythology surrounding them. I tended to daydream through Dad’s activities—the car trip to Dodge City’s Boot Hill, his beloved John Wayne Westerns on TV. My sister, on the other hand, turned into Rooster Cogburn Jr., devouring Duke movies with Dad. In fact, she named her teddy bear Duke, hung a colossal John Wayne portrait next to her bed, and took to wearing one of those John Wayne shirts that button on the side. So, when Dad led us out to the backyard when we were six and, to Amy’s delight, put the gun in her hand, she says she felt it meant that Daddy trusted us and that he thought of us as “big girls.”
But I remember holding the pistol only made me feel small. It was so heavy in my hand. I stretched out my arm and pointed it away and winced. It was a very long time before I had the nerve to pull the trigger and I was so scared I had to close my eyes. It felt like it just went off by itself, as if I had no say in the matter, as if the gun just had this need. The sound it made was as big as God. It kicked little me back to the ground like a bully, like a foe. It hurt. I don’t know if I dropped it or just handed it back over to my dad, but I do know that I never wanted to touch another one again. And, because I believed in the devil, I did what my mother told me to do every time I felt an evil presence. I looked at the smoke and whispered under my breath, “Satan, I rebuke thee.”
It’s not like I’m saying I was traumatized. It’s more like I was decided. Guns: Not For Me. Luckily, both my parents grew up in exasperating households where children were considered puppets and/or slaves. My mom and dad were hell-bent on letting my sister and me make our own choices. So, if I decided that I didn’t want my father’s little death sticks to kick me to the ground gain, that was fine with him. He would go hunting with my sister, who started calling herself “the loneliest twin in history” because of my reluctance to engage in family activities.
Of course, the fact that I was allowed to voice my opinions did not mean that my father would silence his own. Some things were said during the Reagan administration that cannot be taken back. Let’s just say that I blamed Dad for nuclear proliferation and Contra aid. He believed that if I had my way, all the guns would be confiscated, and it would take the commies about fifteen minutes to parachute in and assume control.
We’re older now, my dad and I. The older I get, the more I’m interested in becoming a better daughter. First on my list: Figure out the whole gun thing.
Not long ago, my dad finished his most elaborate tool of death yet. A can- 15 non. He built a nineteenth-century cannon. From scratch. It took two years. My father’s cannon is a smaller replica of a cannon called the Big Horn Gun in front of Bozeman’s Pioneer Museum. The barrel of the original has been filled with concrete ever since some high school kids in the ‘50s pointed it at the school across the Street and shot out its windows one night as a prank. According to Dad’s historical source, a man known to scholars as A Guy at the Museum, the cannon was brought to Bozeman around 1870, and was used by local white merchants to fire at the Sioux and Cheyenne Indians who blocked their trade access to the East in 1874.
“Bozeman was founded on greed,” Dad says. The courthouse cannon, he continues, “definitely killed Indians. The merchants filled it full of nuts, bolts, and chopped-up horseshoes. Sitting Bull could have been part of these engagements. They definitely ticked off the Indians, because a couple of years later, Custer wanders into them at Little Bighorn. The Bozeman merchants were out to cause trouble. They left fresh baked bread with cyanide in it on the trail to poison a few Indians.”
Because my father’s sarcastic American history yarns rarely go on for is long before he trots out some nefarious ancestor of ours —I come from a long line of moonshiners, Confederate soldiers, murderers, even Democrats — he cracks that the merchants hired some “community-minded Southern soldiers from North Texas.” These soldiers had, like my great-great-grandfather John Vowell, fought under pro-slavery guerrilla William C. Quantrill. Quantrill is most famous for riding into Lawrence, Kansas, in 1863 flying a black flag and 156 Description commanding his men pharaoh like to “kill every male and burn down every house.”
“John Vowell,” Dad says, “had a little rep for killing people.” And since he abandoned my great-grandfather Charles, whose mother died giving birth to him in 1870, and wasn’t seen again until 1912, Dad doesn’t rule out the possibility that John Vowell could have been one of the hired guns on the Bozeman Trail. So, the cannon isn’t just another gun to my dad. It’s a map of all his obsessions—firearms, certainly, hut also American history and family history, subjects he’s never bothered separating from each other.
After tooling a million guns, after inventing and building a rifle barrel boring machine, after setting up that complicated shop filled with lathes and blueing tanks and outmoded blacksmithing tools, the cannon is his most ambitious project ever. I thought that if I was ever going to understand the ballistic bee in his bonnet, this was my chance. It was the biggest gun he ever made, and I could experience it and spend time with it with the added bonus of not having to actually pull a trigger myself.
I called Dad and said that I wanted to come to Montana and watch him shoot off the cannon. He was immediately suspicious. But I had never taken much interest in his work before and he would take what he could get. He loaded the cannon into the back of his truck, and we drove up into the Bridger Mountains. I was a little worried that the National Forest Service would object to us lobbing fiery balls of metal onto its property. Dad laughed, assuring me that “you cannot shoot fireworks, but this is considered a firearm.”
It is a small cannon, about as long as a baseball bat and as wide as a coffee can. But it’s heavy— 110 pounds. We park near the side of the hill. Dad takes his gunpowder and other tools out of this adorable wooden box on which he has stenciled “PAT G. VOWELL CANNONWORKS.” Cannonworks: So that’s what NRA members call a metal-strewn garage.
Dad plunges his homemade bullets into the barrel, points it at an embankment just to be safe, and lights the fuse. When the fuse is lit, it resembles a cartoon. So does the sound, which warrants Ben Day dot 2 words along the lines of ker-pow! There’s so much Fourth of July smoke everywhere I feel compelled to sing the national anthem.
I’ve given this a lot of thought—how to convey the giddiness I felt when the cannon shot off. But there isn’t a sophisticated way to say this. It’s just really, really cool. My dad thought so, too. Sometimes, I put together stories about the more eccentric corners of the American experience for public radio. So, I happen to have my tape recorder with me, and I’ve never seen levels like these. Every time the cannon goes off, the delicate needles which keep track of the sound quality lurch into the bad, red zone so fast and so hard I’m surprised they don’t break.
The cannon was so loud and so painful, I had to touch my head to make sure my skull hadn’t cracked open. One thing that my dad and I share is that we’re both a little hard of hearing—me from Aerosmith, him from gunsmith.
He lights the fuse again. The bullet knocks over the log he was aiming at. n I instantly utter a sentence I never in my entire life thought I would say. I tell him, “Good shot, Dad.”
Just as I’m wondering what’s coming over me, two hikers walk by. Apparently, they have never seen a man set off a homemade cannon in the middle of the wilderness while his daughter holds a foot-long microphone up into the air recording its terrorist boom. One hiker gives me a puzzled look and asks, “So you work for the radio and that’s your dad?”
Dad shoots the cannon again so that they can see how it works. The other hiker says, “That’s quite the machine you got there.” But he isn’t talking about the cannon. He’s talking about my tape recorder and my microphone—which is called a shotgun mike. I stare back at him, then I look over at my father’s cannon, then down at my microphone, and I think, Oh. My. God. My dad and I are the same person. We’re both smart-alecky loners with goofy projects and weird equipment. And since this whole target practice outing was my idea, I was no longer his adversary. I was his accomplice. What’s worse, I was liking it.
I haven’t changed my mind about guns. I can get behind the cannon because it is a completely ceremonial object. It’s unwieldy and impractical, just like everything else I care about. Try to rob a convenience store with this 110-pound Saturday night special, you’d still be dragging it in the door Sunday afternoon.
I love noise. As a music fan, I’m always waiting for that moment in a song when something just flies out of it and explodes in the air. My dad is a one-man garage band, the kind of rock ‘n’ roller who slaves away at his art for no reason other than to make his own sound. My dad is an artist—a pretty driven, idiosyncratic one, too. He’s got his last Gesamtkunstwerk all planned out. It’s a performance piece. We’re all in it—my mom, the loneliest twin in history, and me.
When my father dies, take a wild guess what he wants done with his ashes. Here’s a hint: It requires a cannon.
“You guys are going to love this,” he smirks, eyeballing the cannon. “You get to drag this thing up on top of the Gravellies on opening day of hunting season. And looking off at Sphinx Mountain, you get to put me in little paper bags. I can take my last hunting trip on opening morning.”
I’ll do it, too. I will have my father’s body burned into ashes. I will pack these ashes into paper bags. I will go to the mountains with my mother, my sister, and the cannon. I will plunge his remains into the barrel and point it into a hill so that he doesn’t take anyone with him. I will light the fuse. But I will not cover my ears. Because when I blow what used to be my dad into the earth, I want it to hurt.
Sarah Vowell is best known for her smart, witty essays on PRI’s This American Life. Born in Muskogee, Oklahoma, in 1969, Vowell grew up in Oklahoma and Montana. After graduating from Montana State University, she earned an MA in Art History and Criticism from the School of The Arts Institute of Chicago. She’s written several books including Radio On: A Listener’s Diary (1996) and Take The Cannoli (2000), Partly Cloudy Patriot (2002) and Assassination Vacation (2005). Vowell is also a regular columnist for Salon, as well as contributor to Time, Esquire, GQ, and Spin.
Critical Reading Questions
ANALYSIS: Write an analysis essay explaining how Vowell uses description to enhance the dramatic impact of her narrative.
ANNE TAYLOR FLEMING’S “THE FEAR OF BEING ALONE”
Thesis: “In Ann Taylor Fleming’s “The Fear of Being Alone,” the author draws a distinction between loneliness and aloneness by arguing that aloneness is a form of narcissism.”
Points of Discussion:
The Fear of Being Alone
By Anne Taylor Fleming
At the end of this past summer I had plans to go away for a week, simple a week, without my husband. It was the first time in three years that I was making such a solo pilgrimage, and I was frightened. As I walked down the long corridor to the plane, I looked straight ahead, turning a bottle of tranquilizers over and over in my pocket. I felt like a child lost in a department store; my palms were sweaty, and my face was flushed. I tried to remember other solitary departures when I had been similarly discomforted: the walk to the first day of school; the bus ride to Girl Scout camp when I was nine and my sister, who was also on the bus, was ten and suddenly wanted nothing to do with me; the first midnight jet to college.
Of what was I so afraid of? I was afraid of being by myself, of being wholly quiet, of being with people who did not know my name and did not care. I was afraid of being liked by strangers and of not being liked by strangers. Mostly I was afraid of being alone again, even for so short a time. After four and a half years of marriage I had simply lost the habit.
Marriage is not the culprit, though it is an obvious protective mantle against aloneness. The fear of being alone is not reserved for the married just as it is not reserved for women. I Have heard stories like mine from young boys and have seen the same childlike fear in the faces of middle-aged men. Nor is this fear the special property of Americans. But we seem, in this country, to fan the fear of being alone. We are raised and in turn raise our children in clumps, in groups, in auditoriums and carpools and locker rooms and scout dens. Great emphasis is also placed on how well children mix in their own families. Despite the alleged falling apart of the American family, the dialogue about familial relations is constant, binding. If only in talk, parents and children do not leave each other much alone. Great nostalgic emphasis is still placed on the ritual togetherness of the family meal. A solitary eater, anytime, anywhere, conjures up one of those sad, empty, too well-lighted diners of an Edward Hopper painting.
And when for children there is no meal to attend, no group activity, no distraction planned by a weekend father, there is the constant company of the people on TV. A child need never be alone, need never know silence except when asleep. Even then, for urban and suburban children, there are the nonceasing nighttime noises of cars, of neighbors, or arguing or partying parents. To be away from the noise, away from the group—parents or peers—becomes a scary thing and aloneness becomes confused and synonymous with loneliness.
I used to think that the worst thing I could say to my husband when lying next to him was, “I’m lonely.” That, I thought, was very wounding, a reflection of his inability to be company to me. I think now that it’s a reflection on me, on my inability to be gracefully alone even in the presence of someone I love. We all marry in part, to avoid being alone; many of us divorce when we find we can be just as alone in marriage as before, and sometimes more so. Often, women in crumbling marriages conceive babies not to try to hold a man, as the cliché goes, but to guarantee themselves some company—even that of an infant—when that man is gone. After the divorce, for a man or woman, comes the frantic search for a replacement, a new lover, a dog, a singles club, a stronger drink or drug. Waking next to strangers in strange beds—surely, the loneliest habit—is considered preferable to being alone.
Of this random bedding there has been much written lately, especially by a handful of philosopher-journalists who blame such “promiscuity” on what they call the New Narcissism, the inward-turning, selfish, self-absorption of the American people. Each one of us, their lament goes, is “into” his or her own jollies—the pursuit of happiness having become the pursuit of hedonism—our faces resolutely turned away from the world and its problems. But this is the oddest of narcissisms then, the insecure narcissism of people who do not like to be alone. The anti-narcissists point to the prodigious number and variety of soul searchers—EST devotees, Africans, Moonies, meditators and Rolfers—as proof of the neurotic self-celebration of Americans. But even these soul searchings go on in huge groups; they are orgies of mass psyche scratching. Hundreds of people writhe together on auditorium floors in an attempt to soothe their individual wounds. They jog together and ride bicycles together and walk the most beautiful country roads together in an effort to slim their individual thighs.
So even if Americans are involved in a manic and somewhat selfish pursuit of psychic and physical fitness, it is a collective not a private pursuit. Everyone is holding hands; they’re one long daisy chain of self-improvement. This is, at best, a symbiotic narcissism, the narcissism of people very dependent on one another, of people afraid or bored to be alone, of people homogenizing into one sex—it is less scary and less lonely, perhaps, to bed with a body that looks and feels like one’s own—of people who need to see reflected in the water no only their own faces but countless other faces as well.
I do not mean to advertise the advantages of being alone. Many have done that with more conviction than I could. I regard aloneness not as a pleasure so much as an accident that, if one is to be at all happy, must be survived. Nor do I mean to put down narcissism. On the contrary, I find no fault with a certain healthy narcissism. Few among us would undertake the saving of other souls until we first have a stab at saving our own.
The point is simply that narcissism is not the point and that in many ways it’s a misnomer. A true narcissist is a true loner and most of us, raised as we are, make lousy loners. We share each other’s beds somewhat freely not out of boldness but out of timidity, out of the fear of being alone. We hunt for gurus not out of self-love, or narcissism, but out of self-doubt. If we are to be even mildly happy and therefore generous of spirit—as the anti-narcissism would have us be—then what we need is more narcissism, more privatism, not less. What we need instead of soul-searching sessions are classes on how to be alone: Aloneness 1A, Intermediate Aloneness, Advanced Aloneness. The great joy of these new classes is that attendance would not only not be required, it would be forbidden.
A journalist, Anne Taylor Fleming has been a prominent voice commenting on American culture since the mid-1970s. In this essay that appeared in Newsweek in 1976, Fleming examines American identity considering several significant cultural phenomena (workout and self-help culture) of the times.
Critical Reading Questions
ANALYSIS: Write an analysis essay explaining how Fleming uses definition to highlight different ways of looking at being alone.
The Hands of Poverty
By Jane Addams
One of the most poignant of these experiences, which occurred during the first few months after our landing upon the other side of the Atlantic, was on a Saturday night, when I received an ineradicable impression of the wretchedness of East London, and also saw for the first time the overcrowded quarters of a great city at midnight. A small party of tourists were taken to the East End by a city missionary to witness the Saturday night sale of decaying vegetables and fruit, which, owing to the Sunday laws in London, could not be sold until Monday, and, as they were beyond safe keeping, were disposed of at auction as late as possible on Saturday night. On Mile End Road, from the top of an omnibus which paused at the end of a dingy street lighted by only occasional flares of gas, we saw two huge masses of ill-clad people clamoring around two hucksters’ carts. They were bidding their farthings and ha’pennies for a vegetable held up by the auctioneer, which he at last scornfully flung, with a gibe for its cheapness, to the successful bidder. In the momentary pause only one man detached himself from the groups. He had bidden on a cabbage, and when it struck his hand, he instantly sat down on the curb, tore it with his teeth, and hastily devoured it, unwashed and uncooked as it was. He and his fellows were types of the “submerged tenth,” as our missionary guide told us, with some little satisfaction in the then new phrase, and he further added that so many of them could scarcely be seen in one spot save at this Saturday night auction, the desire for cheap food being apparently the one thing which could move them simultaneously. They were huddled into ill-fitting, cast-off clothing, the ragged finery which one sees only in East London. Their pale faces were dominated by that most unlovely of human expressions, the cunning and shrewdness of the bargain-hunter who starves if he cannot make a successful trade, and yet the final impression was not of ragged, tawdry clothing nor of pinched and sallow faces, but of myriads of hands, empty, pathetic, nerveless and workworn, showing white in the uncertain light of the street, and clutching forward for food which was already unfit to eat.
Perhaps nothing is so fraught with significance as the human hand, this oldest tool with which man has dug his way from savagery, and with which he is constantly groping forward. I have never since been able to see a number of hands held upward, even when they are moving rhythmically in a calisthenic exercise, or when they belong to a class of chubby children who wave them in eager response to a teacher’s query, without a certain revival of this memory, a clutching at the heart reminiscent of the despair and resentment which seized me then.
For the following weeks I went about London almost furtively, afraid to look down narrow streets and alleys lest they disclose again this hideous human need and suffering. I carried with me for days at a time that curious surprise we experience when we first come back into the streets after days given over to sorrow and death; we are bewildered that the world should be going on as usual and unable to determine which is real, the inner pang or the outward seeming. In time all huge London came to seem unreal save the poverty in its East End.
Jane Addams was a social activist and reformer in late nineteenth century America. She founded Hull House in the slums of Chicago in 1889 to help those in poverty, especially newly arrived immigrants. She was the first American woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. This excerpt taken from Chapter 4 of her book Twenty Years at Hull House, published in 1912, recounts a visit to London, England where she observes appalling conditions of poverty in the East End.
Critical Reading Questions
ANALYSIS: Write an analysis essay discussing Addams’ use of description.
The Family’s Language
By Richard Rodriguez
I remember to start with that day in Sacramento— a California now nearly thirty years past—when I first entered a classroom, able to understand some fifty stray English words.
The third of four children, I had been preceded to a neighbor- hood Roman Catholic school by an older brother and sister. But neither of them had revealed very much about their classroom experiences. Each afternoon they returned, as they left in the morning, always together, speaking Spanish as they climbed the five steps of the porch. And their mysterious books, wrapped in shopping-bag paper, remained on the table next to the door, closed firmly behind them.
An accident of geography sent me to a school where all my classmates were white, many the children of doctors and lawyers and business executives. All my classmates certainly must have been uneasy on that first day of school—as most children are uneasy—to find themselves apart from their families in the first institution of their lives. But I was astonished.
The nun said, in a friendly but oddly impersonal voice, ‘Boys and girls, this is Richard Rodriguez.’ (I heard her sound out: Rich-heard Road-ree-guess.) It was the first time I had heard anyone name me in English. ‘Richard,’ the nun repeated more slowly, writing my name down in her black leather book. Quickly I turned to see my mother’s face dissolve in a watery blur behind the pebbled glass door.
Many years later there is something called bilingual education—a scheme proposed in the late 1960s by Hispanic-American social activists, later endorsed by a congressional vote. It is a pro- gram that seeks to permit non-English-speaking children, many from lower-class homes, to use their family language as the language of school. (Such is the goal its supporters announce.) I hear them and am forced to say no: It is not possible for a child—any child—ever to use his family’s language in school. Not to under- stand this is to misunderstand the public uses of schooling and to trivialize the nature of intimate life—a family’s ‘language.’
Memory teaches me what I know of these matters; the boy reminds the adult. I was a bilingual child, a certain kind— socially disadvantaged—the son of working-class parents, both Mexican immigrants.
In the early years of my boyhood, my parents coped very well in America. My father had steady work. My mother managed at home. They were nobody’s victims. Optimism and ambition led them to a house (our home) many blocks from the Mexican south side of town. We lived among gringos and only a block from the biggest, whitest houses. It never occurred to my parents that they couldn’t live wherever they chose. Nor was the Sacramento of the fifties bent on teaching them a contrary lesson. My mother and father were more annoyed than intimidated by those two or three neighbors who tried initially to make us unwelcome. (‘Keep your brats away from my sidewalk!’) But despite all they achieved, per- haps because they had so much to achieve, any deep feeling of ease, the confidence of ‘belonging’ in public was withheld from them both. They regarded the people at work, the faces in crowds, as very distant from us. They were the others, los gringos. That term was interchangeable in their speech with another, even more telling, los americanos.
I grew up in a house where the only regular guests were my relations. For one day, enormous families of relatives would visit and there would be so many people that the noise and the bodies would spill out to the backyard and front porch. Then, for weeks, no one came by. (It was usually a salesman who rang the doorbell.) Our house stood apart. A gaudy yellow in a row of white bungalows. We were the people with the noisy dog. The people who raised pigeons and chickens. We were foreigners on the block. A few neighbors smiled and waved. We waved back. But no one in the family knew the names of the old couple who lived next door; until I was seven years old, I did not know the names of the kids who lived across the street.
In public, my father and mother spoke a hesitant, accented, not always grammatical English. And they would have to strain— their bodies tense—to catch the sense of what was rapidly said by los gringos. At home they spoke Spanish. The language of their Mexican past sounded in counterpoint to the English of public society. The words would come quickly, with ease. Conveyed through those sounds was the pleasing, soothing, consoling reminder of being at home.
During those years when I was first conscious of hearing, my mother and father addressed me only in Spanish; in Spanish I learned to reply. By contrast, English (inglés), rarely heard in the house, was the language I came to associate with gringos. I learned my first words of English overhearing my parents speak to strangers. At five years of age, I knew just enough English for my mother to trust me on errands to stores one block away. No more.
I was a listening child, careful to hear the very different sounds of Spanish and English. Wide-eyed with hearing, I’d listen to sounds more than words. First, there were English (gringo) sounds. So many words were still unknown that when the butcher or the lady at the drugstore said something to me, exotic polysyllabic sounds would bloom in the midst of their sentences. Often, the speech of people in public seemed to me very loud, booming with confidence. The man behind the counter would literally ask, “What can I do for you?” But by being so firm and so clear, the sound of his voice said that he was a gringo; he belonged in public society.
I would also hear then the high nasal notes of middle-class American speech. The air stirred with sound. Sometimes, even now, when I have been traveling abroad for several weeks, I will hear what I heard as a boy. In hotel lobbies or airports, in Turkey or Brazil, some Americans will pass, and suddenly I will hear it again—the high sound of American voices. For a few seconds I will hear it with pleasure, for it is now the sound of my society—a reminder of home. But inevitably—already on the flight headed for home—the sound fades with repetition. I will be unable to hear it anymore.
When I was a boy, things were different. The accent of los gringos was never pleasing nor was it hard to hear. Crowds at Safeway or at bus stops would be noisy with sound. And I would be forced to edge away from the chirping chatter above me.
I was unable to hear my own sounds, but I knew very well that I spoke English poorly. My words could not stretch far enough to form complete thoughts. And the words I did speak I didn’t know well enough to make into distinct sounds. (Listeners would usually lower their heads, better to hear what I was trying to say.) But it was one thing for me to speak English with difficulty. It was more troubling for me to hear my parents speak in public: their high-whining vowels and guttural consonants; their sentences that got stuck with ‘eh’ and ‘ah’ sounds; their confused syntax; the hesitant rhythm of sounds so different from the way gringos spoke. I’d notice, moreover, that my parents’ voices were softer than those of gringos we’d meet.
I am tempted now to say that none of this mattered. In adult- hood I am embarrassed by childhood fears. And, in a way, it didn’t matter very much that my parents could not speak English with ease. Their linguistic difficulties had no serious consequences. My mother and father made themselves understood at the county hospital clinic and at government offices. And yet, in another way, it mattered very much—it was unsettling to hear my parents struggle with English. Hearing them, I’d grow nervous, my clutching trust in their protection and power weakened.
There were many times like the night at a brightly lit gasoline station (a blaring white memory) when I stood uneasily, hearing my father. He was talking to a teenaged attendant. I do not recall what they were saying, but I cannot forget the sounds my father made as he spoke. At one point his words slid together to form one word—sounds as confused as the threads of blue and green oil in the puddle next to my shoes. His voice rushed through what he had left to say. And, toward the end, reach falsetto notes, appealing to the listener’s understanding. I looked away to the lights of passing automobiles. I tried not to hear anymore. But I heard only too well the calm, easy tones in the attendant’s reply. Shortly afterward, walking toward home with my father, I shivered when he put his hand on my shoulder. The very first chance that I got, I evaded his grasp and ran on ahead into the dark, skipping with feigned boyish exuberance.
But then there was Spanish. Español: my family’s language. Español: the language that seemed to me a private language. I’d hear strangers on the radio and in the Mexican Catholic church across town speaking in Spanish, but I couldn’t really believe that Spanish was a public language, like English. Spanish speakers, rather, seemed related to me, for I sensed that we shared—through our language—the experience of feeling apart from los gringos. It was thus a ghetto Spanish that I heard, and I spoke. Like those whose lives are bound by a barrio, I was reminded by Spanish of my separateness from los otros, los gringos in power. But more intensely than for most barrio children—because I did not live in a barrio—Spanish seemed to me the language of home. (Most days it was only at home that I’d hear it.) It became the language of joyful return.
A family member would say something to me, and I would feel myself specially recognized. My parents would say something to me, and I would feel embraced by the sound of their words. Those sounds said: I am speaking with ease in Spanish. I am addressing you in words I never use with los gringos. I recognize you as someone special, close, like no one outside. You belong with us. In the family.
At the age of five, six, well past the time when most other children no longer easily notice the difference between sounds uttered at home and words spoken in public, I had a different experience. I lived in a world magically compounded of sounds. I remained a child longer than most; I lingered too long, poised at the edge of language—often frightened by the sounds of los gringos, delighted by the sounds of Spanish at home. I shared with my family a language that was startlingly different from that used in the great city around us.
For me there were none of the gradations between public and private society so normal to a maturing child. Outside the house was public society; inside the house was private. Just opening or closing the screen door behind me was an important experience. I’d rarely leave home all alone or without reluctance. Walking down the sidewalk, under the canopy of tall trees, I’d warily notice the—suddenly—silent neighborhood kids who stood warily watching me. Nervously, I’d arrive at the grocery store to hear there the sounds of the gringo—foreign to me—reminding me that in this world so big, I was a foreigner. But then I’d return. Walking back toward our house, climbing the steps from the sidewalk, when the front door was open in summer, I’d hear voices beyond the screen door talking in Spanish. For a second or two, I’d stay, linger there, listening. Smiling, I’d hear my mother call out, saying in Spanish (words): ‘Is that you Richard?’ All the while her sounds would assure me: You are home now; come closer; inside. With us.
‘Sí,’ I’d reply.
Once more inside the house I would resume (assume) my place in the family. The sounds would dim, grow harder to hear. Once more at home, I would grow less aware of that fact. It required, however, no more than the blurt of the doorbell to alert me to listen to sounds all over again. The house would turn instantly still while my mother went to the door. I’d hear her hard English sounds. I’d wait to hear her voice return to soft-sounding Spanish, which assured me, as surely as did the clicking tongue of the lock on the door, that the stranger was gone.
Plainly, it is not healthy to hear such sounds so often. It is not healthy to distinguish public words from private sounds so easily. I remained cloistered by sounds, timid and shy in public, too dependent on voices at home. And yet it needs to be emphasized: I was an extremely happy child at home. I remember many nights when my father would come back from work, and I’d hear him call out to my mother in Spanish, sounding relieved. In Spanish, he’d sound light and free notes he never could manage in English. Some nights I’d jump up just at hearing his voice. With mis hermanos I would come running into the room where he was with my mother. Our laughing (so deep was the pleasure!) became screaming. Like others who know the pain of public alienation, we transformed the knowledge of our public separateness and made it consoling—the reminder of intimacy. Excited, we joined our voices in a celebration of sounds. We are speaking now the way we never speak out in public. We are alone—together, voices sounded, surrounded to tell me. Some nights, no one seemed willing to loosen the hold sounds had on us. At dinner, we invented new words. (Ours sounded Spanish but made sense only to us.) We pieced together new words by taking, say, an English verb and giving it Spanish endings. My mother’s instructions at bedtime would be lacquered with mock- urgent tones. Or a word like sí would become, in several notes, able to convey added measures of feeling. Tongues explored the edges of words, especially the fat vowels. And we happily sounded that military drum roll, the twirling roar of the Spanish r. Family language: my family’s sounds.
The voices of my parents and sisters and brother. Their voices insisting: You belong here. We are family members. Related. Special to one another. Listen! Voices singing and sighing, rising, straining, then surging, teeming with pleasure that burst syllables into fragments of laughter. At times it seemed there was steady quiet only when, from another room, the rustling whispers of my parents faded, and I moved closer to sleep.
Richard Rodriguez is an American cultural critic and essayist best known for his memoir The Hunger of Memory (1982). He was born in San Francisco in 1944 to Mexican immigrants and has received degrees from Stanford, University of California, Berkeley, and the Wharton Institute in London. His essays have appeared in Harper’s, Mother Jones, Time. He was a contributor to PBS NewsHour for many years. His collection of essays Days of Obligation (1992) was nominated for a Pulitzer. His two other collections, Brown: The Last Discovery of America (2002) and Darling: A Spiritual Journey (2013), focus on race and religion.
Critical Reading Questions
ANALYSIS: Write an analysis essay that discusses the different ways Rodriguez communicates his values.
A Shame of Silence
By Maxine Hong Kingston
When I went to kindergarten and had to speak English for the first time, I became silent. A dumbness—a shame—still cracks my voice in two, even when I want to say “hello” causally or ask an easy question in front of the check-out counter or ask directions of a bus driver. I stand frozen or I hold up the line with the complete, grammatical sentence that comes squeaking out at impossible length. “What did you say?” says the cab driver, or “Speak up,” so I have to perform again, only weaker the second time. A telephone call makes my throat bleed and takes up that day’s courage. It spoils my day with self-disgust when I hear my broken voice come skittering out into the open. It makes people wince to hear it. I’m getting better, though. Recently I asked the postman for special-issue stamps; I’ve waited since childhood for postmen to give me some of their own accord. I am making progress, a little every day.
My silence was thickest—total—during the three years that I covered my school paintings with black paint. I painted layers of black over houses and flowers and suns, and when I drew on the blackboard, I put a layer of chalk on top. I was making a stage curtain, and it was the moment before the curtain parted or rose. The teachers called my parents to school, and I saw they had been saving my pictures, curling and cracking, all alike and black. The teachers pointed to the pictures and looked serious, talked seriously too, but my parents did not understand English. (“The parents and teachers of criminals were executed,” said my father.) My parents took the pictures home. I spread them out (so black and full of possibilities) and pretended the curtains were swinging open, flying up, one after another, sunlight underneath, mighty operas.
During the first silent year I spoke to no one at school, did not ask before going to the lavatory, and flunked kindergarten. My sister also said nothing for three years, silent in the playground and silent at lunch. There were other quiet Chinese girls not of our family, but most of them got over it sooner than we did. I enjoyed the silence. At first it did not occur to me I was supposed to talk or to pass kindergarten. I talked at home and to one or two of the Chinese kids in class. I made motions and even made some jokes. I drank out of a toy saucer when the water spilled out of the cup, and everybody laughed, pointing at me, so I did it some more. I didn’t know that Americans don’t drink out of saucers.
I liked the Negro students (Black Ghosts) best because they laughed the loudest and talked to me as if I were a daring talker too. One of the Negro girls had her mother coil braids over her ears Shanghai-style like mine; we were Shanghai twins except that she was covered with black like my paintings. Two Negro kids enrolled in Chinese school, and the teachers gave them Chinese names. Some Negro kids walked me to school and home, protecting me from the Japanese kids, who hit me and chased me and stuck gum in my ears. The Japanese kids were noisy and tough. They appeared one day in kindergarten, released from concentration camp, which was a tic-tac-toe mark, like barbed wire, on the map.
It was when I found out I had to talk that school became a misery, that the silence became a misery. I did not speak and felt bad each time that I did not speak. I read aloud in first grade, though, and heard the barest whisper with little squeaks come out of my throat. “Louder,” said the teacher, who scared the voice away again. The other Chinese girls did not talk either, so I knew the silence had to do with being a Chinese girl.
Reading out loud was easier than speaking because we did not have to make up what to say, but I stopped often, and the teacher would think I’d gone quiet again. I could not understand “I.” The Chinese “I” has seven strokes, intricacies. How could the American “I,” assuredly wearing a hat like the Chinese, have only three strokes, the middle so straight? Was it out of politeness that this writer left off strokes the way a Chinese has to write her own name small and crooked? No, it was not politeness; “I” is a capital and “you” is lower-case. I stared at that middle line and waited so long for its black center to resolve into tight strokes and dots that I forgot to pronounce it. The other troublesome word was “here,” no strong consonant to hang on to, and so flat, when “here” is two mountainous ideographs. The teacher, who had already told me everyday how to read “I” and “here,” put me in the lower corner under the stairs again, where the noisy boys usually sat.
When my second-grade class did a play, the whole class went to the auditorium except the Chinese girls. The teacher, lovely and Hawaiian, should have understood about us, but instead left us behind in the classroom. Our voices were too soft or nonexistent, and our parents never signed the permission slips anyway. They never signed anything unnecessary. We opened the door a crack and peaked out but closed it again quickly. One of us (not me) won every spelling bee, though.
I remember telling the Hawaiian teacher, “We Chinese can’t sing ‘land where our fathers died.’” She argued with me about politics, while I meant because of curses. But how can I Have that memory when I couldn’t talk? My mother says that we, like the ghosts, have no memories.
After American school, we picked up our cigar boxes, in which we had arranged books, brushes, and an inkbox neatly, and went to Chinese school, from 5 PM – 7:30 PM. There we chanted together, voices rising and falling, loud and soft, some boys shouting, everybody reading together, reciting together and not alone with one voice. When we had a memorization test, the teacher let each of us come to his desk and say the lesson to him privately, while the rest of the class practiced copying and tracing. Most of the children were men. The boys who were so well behaved in the American school played tricks on them and talked back to them. The girls were not mute. They screamed and yelled during recess, when there were no rules; they had fist-fights. Nobody was afraid of children hurting themselves or of children hurting school property. The glass doors to the red and green balconies with the gold joy symbols were left wide open so that we could run out and climb the fire escapes. We played capture-the-flag in the auditorium, where Sun Yat-sen and Chaing Kai-shek’s pictures hung at the back of the stage, the Chinese flag on their left and the American flag on their right. We climbed the teak ceremonial chairs and made flying leaps off the stage. One flag headquarters was behind the glass door and the other on the stage right. Our feet drummed on the hollow stage. During recess the teachers locked up themselves in their office with the shelves of books, copybooks, inks from China. They drank tea and warmed their hands at a stove. There was no play supervision. At recess we had the school to ourselves, and also, we could roam as far as we could go—downtown, Chinatown stores, home—as long as we returned before the bell rang.
At exactly 7:30 the teacher again picked up the brass bell that sat on his desk and swung it over our heads, while we charged down the stairs, our cheering magnified in the stairwell. Nobody had to line up.
Not all of the children who were silent at American school found voice at Chinese school. One new teacher said each of us had to get up and recite in front of the class, who was to listen. My sister and I had memorized the lesson perfectly. We said it to each other at home, one chanting, one listening. The teacher called on my sister to recite first. It was the first time a teacher had called on the secondborn to go first. My sister was scared. She glanced at me and looked away; I looked down at my desk. I hoped that she could do it because if she could, then I would have to. She opened her mouth and a voice came out that wasn’t a whisper, but it wasn’t a proper voice either. I hoped that she would not cry, fear breaking up her voice like twigs underfoot. She sounded as if she were trying to sing through weeping and strangling. She did not pause or stop to end the embarrassment. She kept on going until she said the last word, and then she sat down. When it was my turn, the same voice came out, a crippled animal running on broken legs. You could hear splinters in my voice, bones rubbing jagged against one another. I was loud, though. I was glad I didn’t whisper.
Maxine Hong Kingston is a Chinese American author and Professor Emerita at the University of California, Berkeley, where she graduated with a BA in English in 1962. Kingston has written three novels and several works of nonfiction about the experiences of Chinese Americans. Kingston’s memoir, The Woman Warrior (1976) won universal acclaim. Her other work of nonfiction, China Men (1981) won the National Book Award.
Critical Reading Questions
ANALYSIS: Write an analysis essay discussing Kingston’s use of narration.
I’d Rather Be Black Than Female
By Shirley Chisholm
Being the first black woman elected to Congress has made me some kind of phenomenon. There are nine other blacks in Congress; there are ten other women. I was the first to overcome both handicaps at once. Of the two handicaps, being black is much less of a drawback than being female.
If I said that being black is a greater handicap than being a woman, probably no one would question me. Why? Because “we all know” there is prejudice against black people in America. That there is prejudice against women is an idea that still strikes nearly all men—and, I am afraid, most women—as bizarre.
Prejudice against blacks was invisible to most white Americans for many years. When blacks finally started to “mention” it, with sit-ins, boycotts, and freedom rides, Americans were incredulous. “Who, us?” they asked in injured tones. “We’re prejudiced?” It was the start of a long, painful reeducation for white America. It will take years for whites—including those who think of themselves as liberals—to discover and eliminate the racist attitudes they all actually have.
How much harder will it be to eliminate the prejudice against women? I am sure it will be a longer struggle. Part of the problem is that women in America are much more brainwashed and content with their roles as second-class citizens than blacks ever were.
Let me explain. I have been active in politics for more than twenty years. For all but the last six, I have done the work—all the tedious details that make the difference between victory and defeat on election day—while men reaped the rewards, which is almost invariably the lot of women in politics.
It is still women—about three million volunteers—who do most of this work in the American political world. The best any of them can hope for is the honor of being district or county vice-chairman, a kind of separate-but-equal position with which a woman is rewarded for years of faithful envelope stuffing and card-party organizing. In such a job, she gets a number of free trips to state and sometimes national meetings and conventions, where her role is supposed to be to vote the way her male chairman votes.
When I tried to break out of that role in 1963 and run for the New York State Assembly seat from Brooklyn’s Bedford- Stuyvesant, the resistance was bitter. From the start of that campaign, I faced undisguised hostility because of my sex.
But it was four years later, when I ran for Congress, that the question of my sex became a major issue. Among members of my own party, closed meetings were held to discuss ways of stopping me.
My opponent, the famous civil-rights leader James Farmer, tried to project a black, masculine image; he toured the neighborhood with sound trucks filled with young men wearing Afro haircuts, dashikis, and beards. While the television crews ignored me, they were not aware of a very important statistic, which both I and my campaign manager, Wesley Mac D. Holder, knew. In my district there are 2.5 women for every man registered to vote. And those women are organized—in PTAs, church societies, card clubs, and other social and service groups. I went to them and asked their help. Mr. Farmer still doesn’t quite know what hit him.
When a bright young woman graduate starts looking for a job, why is the first question always: “Can you type?” A history of prejudice lies behind that question. Why are women thought of as secretaries, not administrators? Librarians and teachers, but not doctors and lawyers? Because they are thought of as different and inferior. The happy homemaker and the contented darky are both stereotypes produced by prejudice.
Women have not even reached the level of tokenism that blacks are reaching. No women sit on the Supreme Court. Only two have held Cabinet rank, and none do at present. Only two women hold ambassadorial rank. But women predominate in the lower-paying, menial, unrewarding, dead-end jobs, and when they do reach better positions, they are invariably paid less than a man gets for the same job.
If that is not prejudice, what would you call it?
A few years ago, I was talking with a political leader about a promising young woman as a candidate. “Why invest time and effort to build the girl up?” he asked me. “You know she’ll only drop out of the game to have a couple of kids just about the time we’re ready to run her for mayor.”
Plenty of people have said similar things about me. Plenty of others have advised me, every time I tried to take another upward step, that I should go back to teaching, a woman’s vocation, and leave politics to the men. I love teaching, and I am ready to go back to it as soon as I am convinced that this country no longer needs a woman’s contribution.
When there are no children going to bed hungry in this rich nation, I may be ready to go back to teaching. When there is a good school for every child, I may be ready. When we do not spend our wealth on hardware to murder people, when we no longer tolerate prejudice against minorities, and when the laws against unfair housing and unfair employment practices are enforced instead of evaded, then there may be nothing more for me to do in politics.
But until that happens—and we all know it will not be this year or next—what we need is more women in politics, because we have a very special contribution to make. I hope that the example of my success will convince other women to get into politics—and not just to stuff envelopes, but to run for office.
It is women who can bring empathy, tolerance, insight, patience, and persistence to government—the qualities we naturally have or have had to develop because of our suppression by men. The women of a nation mold its morals, its religion, and its politics by the lives they live. At present, our country needs women’s idealism and determination, perhaps more in politics than anywhere else.
A representative to the US House from 1969–1983, Shirley Chisholm was a dedicated advocate of social justice. She was the first black representative to Congress and she was the first black woman to see the nomination for the presidency. She was also the first woman to run for the Democratic Presidential nomination. In 2015, Chisholm was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Critical Reading Questions
ANALYSIS: Write an analysis essay that discusses Chisholm’s use of examples. How do they support her main idea?
Is Google Making Us Stupid?
By Nicholas Carr
“Dave, stop. Stop, will you? Stop, Dave. Will you stop, Dave?” So the supercomputer HAL pleads with the implaca- ble astronaut Dave Bowman in a famous and weirdly poignant scene toward the end of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Bowman, having nearly been sent to a deep-space death by the malfunctioning machine, is calmly, coldly disconnecting the memory circuits that control its artificial “brain.” “Dave, my mind is going,” HAL says, forlornly. “I can feel it. I can feel it.”
I can feel it, too. Over the past few years I’ve had an uncomfortable sense that someone, or something, has been tinkering with my brain, remapping the neural circuitry, reprogramming the memory. My mind isn’t going—so far as I can tell—but it’s changing. I’m not thinking the way I used to think. I can feel it most strongly when I’m reading. Immersing myself in a book or a lengthy article used to be easy. My mind would get caught up in the narrative or the turns of the argument, and I’d spend hours strolling through long stretches of prose. That’s rarely the case anymore. Now my concentration often starts to drift after two or three pages. I get fidgety, lose the thread, begin looking for some- thing else to do. I feel as if I’m always dragging my wayward brain back to the text. The deep reading that used to come naturally has become a struggle.
I think I know what’s going on. For more than a decade now, I’ve been spending a lot of time online, searching and surfing and sometimes adding to the great databases of the Internet. The Web has been a godsend to me as a writer. Research that once required days in the stacks or periodical rooms of libraries can now be done in minutes. A few Google searches, some quick clicks on hyper- links, and I’ve got the telltale fact or pithy quote I was after. Even when I’m not working, I’m as likely as not to be foraging in the Web’s info-thickets, reading and writing e-mails, scanning head- lines and blog posts, watching videos and listening to podcasts, or just tripping from link to link to link. (Unlike footnotes, to which they’re sometimes likened, hyperlinks don’t merely point to related works; they propel you toward them.)
For me, as for others, the Net is becoming a universal medium, the conduit for most of the information that Hows through my eyes and ears and into my mind. The advantages of having immediate access to such an incredibly rich store of information are many, and they’ve been widely described and duly applauded. “The perfect recall of silicon memory,” Wired’s Clive Thompson has written, “can be an enormous boon to thinking.” But that boon comes at a price. As the media theorist Marshall McLuhan pointed out in the 1960s, media are not just passive channels of information. They supply the stuff of thought, but they also shape the process of thought. And what the Net seems to be doing is chipping away my capacity for concentration and contemplation. My mind now expects to take in information the way the Net distributes it: in a swiftly moving stream of particles. Once I was a scuba diver in the sea of words. Now I zip along the surface like a guy on a Jet Ski.
I’m not the only one. When I mention my troubles with reading to friends and acquaintances—literary types, most of them—many say they’re having similar experiences. The more they use the Web, the more they have to fight to stay focused on long pieces of writing. Some of the bloggers I follow have also begun mentioning the phenomenon. Scott Karp, who writes a blog about online media, recently confessed that he has stopped reading books altogether. “I was a lit major in college and used to be [a] voracious book reader,” he wrote. “What happened?” He speculates on the answer: “What if I do all my reading on the Web not so much because the way I read has changed, i.e., I’m just seeking convenience, but because the way I THINK has changed?”
Bruce Friedman, who blogs regularly about the use of computers in medicine, also has described how the Internet has altered his mental habits. “I now have almost totally lost the ability to read and absorb a longish article on the Web or in print,” he wrote earlier this year. A pathologist who has long been on the faculty of the University of Michigan Medical School, Friedman elaborated on his comment in a telephone conversation with me. His thinking, he said, has taken on a “staccato” quality, reflecting the way he quickly scans short passages of text from many sources online. “I can’t read War and Peace anymore,” he admitted. “I’ve lost the ability to do that. Even a blog post of more than three or four para- graphs is too much to absorb. I skim it.”
Anecdotes alone don’t prove much. And we still await the long-term neurological and psychological experiments that will provide a definitive picture of how Internet use affects cognition. But a recently published study of online research habits, conducted by scholars from University College London, suggests that we may well be in the midst of a sea change in the way we read and think. As part of the five-year research program, the scholars examined computer logs documenting the behavior of visitors to two popular research sites, one operated by the British Library and one by a U.K. educational consortium, that provide access to journal articles, e-books, and other sources of written information. They found that people using the sites exhibited “a form of skimming activity,” hopping from one source to another and rarely returning to any source they’d already visited. They typically read no more than one or two pages of an article or book before they would “bounce” out to another site. Sometimes they’d save a long article, but there’s no evidence that they ever went back and actually read it. The authors of the study report:
It is clear that users are not reading online in the traditional sense; indeed, there are signs that new forms of “reading” are emerging as users “power browse” horizontally through titles, contents pages and abstracts going for quick wins. It almost seems that they go online to avoid reading in the traditional sense.
Thanks to the ubiquity of text on the Internet, not to mention the popularity of text-messaging on cell phones, we may well be reading more today than we did in the 1970s or 1980s, when television was our medium of choice. But it’s a different kind of reading, and behind it lies a different kind of thinking—perhaps even a new sense of the self. “We are not only what we read,” says Maryanne Wolf, a developmental psychologist at Tufts University and the author of Proust and the Squid: The Stoiy and Science of the Reading Brain. “We are how we read.” Wolf worries that the style of reading promoted by the Net, a style that puts “efficiency” and “immediacy” above all else, may be weakening our capacity for the kind of deep reading that emerged when an earlier technology, the printing press, made long and complex works of prose common- place. When we read online, she says, we tend to become “mere decoders of information.” Our ability to interpret text, to make the rich mental connections that form when we read deeply and with- out distraction, remains largely disengaged.
Reading, explains Wolf, is not an instinctive skill for human beings. It’s not etched into our genes the way speech is. We have to teach our minds how to translate the symbolic characters we see into the language we understand. And the media or other technologies we use in learning and practicing the craft of reading play an important part in shaping the neural circuits inside our brains. Experiments demonstrate that readers of ideograms, such as the Chinese, develop a mental circuitry for reading that is very different from the circuitry found in those of us whose written language employs an alphabet. The variations extend across many regions
of the brain, including those that govern such essential cognitive functions as memory and the interpretation of visual and auditory stimuli. We can expect as well that the circuits woven by our use of the Net will be different from those woven by our reading of books and other printed works.
Sometime in 1882, Friedrich Nietzsche bought a type- writer—a Malling-Hanscn Writing Ball, to be precise. His vision was failing, and keeping his eyes focused on a page had become exhausting and painful, often bringing on crushing headaches. He had been forced to curtail his writing, and he feared that he would soon have to give it up. The typewriter rescued him, at least for a time. Once he had mastered touch-typing, he was able to write with his eyes closed, using only the tips of his fingers. Words could once again (low from his mind to the page.
But the machine had a subtler effect on his work. One of Nietzsche’s friends, a composer, noticed a change in the style of his writing. His already terse prose had become even tighter, more telegraphic. “Perhaps you will through this instrument even take to a new idiom,” the friend wrote in a letter, noting that, in his own work, his ‘“thoughts’ in music and language often depend on the quality of pen and paper.”
“You are light,” Nietzsche replied, “our writing equipment takes part in the forming of our thoughts.” Under the sway of the machine, writes the German media scholar Friedrich A. Kittler, Nietzsche’s prose “changed from arguments to aphorisms, from thoughts to puns, from rhetoric to telegram style.”
The human brain is almost infinitely malleable. People used to think that our mental meshwork, the dense connections formed among the 100 billion or so neurons inside our skulls, was largely fixed by the time we reached adulthood. But brain researchers have discovered that that’s not the case. James Olds, a professor of neuroscience who directs the Krasnow Institute lor Advanced Study at George Mason University, says that even the adult mind “is very plastic.” Nerve cells routinely break old connections and form new ones. “The brain,” according to Olds, “has the ability to reprogram itself on the lly, altering the way it functions.”
As we use what the sociologist Daniel Bell has called our “intellectual technologies”—the tools that extend our mental rather than our physical capacities—we inevitably begin to take on the qualities of those technologies. The mechanical clock, which came into common use in the 14th century, provides a compelling example. In Technics and Civilization, the historian and cultural critic Lewis Mumford described how the clock “disassociated time from human events and helped create the belief in an independent world of mathematically measurable sequences.” The “abstract framework of divided time” became “the point of reference for both action and thought.”
The clocks methodical ticking helped bring into being the scientific mind and the scientific man. But it also took something away. As the late MIT computer scientist Joseph Weizenbaum observed in his 1976 book, Computer Power and Human Reason: From Judgment to Calculation, the conception of the world that emerged from the widespread use of timekeeping instruments “remains an impoverished version of the older one, for it rests on a rejection of those direct experiences that formed the basis lor, and indeed constituted, the old reality.” In deciding when to eat, to work, to sleep, to rise, we stopped listening to our senses and started obeying the clock.
The process of adapting to new intellectual technologies is reflected in the changing metaphors we use to explain ourselves to ourselves. When the mechanical clock arrived, people began thinking of their brains as operating “like clockwork.” Today, in the age of software, we have come to think of them as operating “like computers.” But the changes, neuroscience tells us, go much deeper than metaphor. Thanks to our brain’s plasticity, the adaptation occurs also at a biological level.
The Internet promises to have particularly far-reaching effects on cognition. In a paper published in 1936, the British mathematician Alan Turing proved that a digital computer, which at the time existed only as a theoretical machine, could be programmed to perform the function of any other information-processing device. And that’s what we’re seeing today. The Internet, an immeasurably powerful computing system, is subsuming most of our other intellectual technologies. It’s becoming our map and our clock, our printing press and our typewriter, our calculator and our tele- phone, and our radio and TV.
When the Net absorbs a medium, that medium is re-created in ‘ the Net’s image. It injects the medium’s content with hyper- links, blinking ads, and other digital gewgaws, and it surrounds the content with the content of all the other media it has absorbed. A new e-mail message, for instance, may announce its arrival as
we’re glancing over the latest headlines at a newspaper’s site. The result is to scatter our attention and diffuse our concentration.
The Net’s influence doesn’t end at the edges of a computer screen, either. As people’s minds become attuned to the crazy quilt of Internet media, traditional media have to adapt to the audience’s new expectations. Television programs add text crawls and pop-up ads, and magazines and newspapers shorten their articles, introduce capsule summaries, and crowd their pages with easy-to- browse info-snippets. When, in March of this year, the New York Times decided to devote the second and third pages of every edition to article abstracts, its design director, Tom Bodkin, explained that the “shortcuts” would give harried readers a quick “taste” of the day’s news, sparing them the “less efficient” method of actually turning the pages and reading the articles. Old media have little choice but to play by the new-media rules.
Never has a communications system played so many roles in our lives—or exerted such broad influence over our thoughts—as the Internet does today. Yet, for all that’s been written about the Net, there’s been little consideration of how, exactly, it’s reprogramming us. The Net’s intellectual ethic remains obscure.
About the same time that Nietzsche started using his type- writer, an earnest young man named Frederick Winslow Taylor carried a stopwatch into the Midvale Steel plant in Philadelphia and began a historic series of experiments aimed at improving the efficiency of the plant’s machinists. With the approval of Midvale’s owners, he recruited a group of factory hands, set them to work on various metalworking machines, and recorded and timed their every movement as well as the operations of the machines. By breaking down every job into a sequence of small, discrete steps and then testing different ways of performing each one, Taylor created a set of precise instructions—an “algorithm,” we might say today—for how each worker should work. Midvale’s employees grumbled about the strict new regime, claiming that it turned them into little more than automatons, but the factory’s productivity soared.
More than a hundred years after the invention of the steam engine, the Industrial Revolution had at last found its philosophy and its philosopher. Taylor’s tight industrial choreography—his “system,” as he liked to call it—was embraced by manufacturers throughout the country and, in time, around the world. Seeking maximum speed, maximum efficiency, and maximum output, factory owners used time-and-motion studies to organize their work and configure the jobs of their workers. The goal, as Taylor defined it in his celebrated 1911 treatise, The Principles of Scientific Management, was to identify and adopt, for every job, the “one best method” of work and thereby to effect “the gradual substitution of science for rule of thumb throughout the mechanic arts.” Once his system was applied to all acts of manual labor, Taylor assured his followers, it would bring about a restructuring not only of industry but of society, creating a Utopia of perfect efficiency. “In the past the man has been first,” he declared; “in the future the system must be first.”
Taylors system is still very much with us; it remains the ethic of industrial manufacturing. And now, thanks to the growing power that computer engineers and software coders wield over our intellectual lives, Taylor’s ethic is beginning to govern the realm of the mind as well. The Internet is a machine designed for the efficient and automated collection, transmission, and manipulation of information, and its legions of programmers are intent on finding the “one best method”—the perfect algorithm—to carry out every mental movement of what we’ve come to describe as “knowledge work.”
Google’s headquarters, in Mountain View, California—the Googleplex—is the Internet’s high church, and the religion practiced inside its walls is Taylorism. Google, says its chief executive, Eric Schmidt, is “a company that’s founded around the science of measurement,” and it is striving to “systematize everything” it does. Drawing on the terabytes of behavioral data it collects through its search engine and other sites, it carries out thousands of experiments a day, according to the Harvard Business Review, and it uses the results to refine the algorithms that increasingly control how people find information and extract meaning from it. What Taylor did for the work of the hand, Google is doing for the work of the mind.
The company has declared that its mission is “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” It seeks to develop “the perfect search engine,” which it defines as something that “understands exactly what you mean and gives you back exactly what you want.” In Google’s view, information is a kind of commodity, a utilitarian resource that can be mined and processed with industrial efficiency. The more pieces of information we can “access” and the faster we can extract their gist, the more productive we become as thinkers
Where does it end? Sergey Brin and Larry Page, the gifted young men who founded Google while pursuing doctoral degrees in computer science at Stanford, speak frequently of their desire to turn their search engine into an artificial intelligence, a HAL-like machine that might be connected directly to our brains. “The ultimate search engine is something as smart as people—or smarter,” Page said in a speech a few years back. “For us, working on search is a way to work on artificial intelligence.” In a 2004 interview with Newsweek, Brin said, “Certainly if you had all the world’s information directly attached to your brain, or an artificial brain that was smarter than your brain, you’d be better off.” Last year, Page told a convention of scientists that Google is “really trying to build artificial intelligence and to do it on a large scale.”
Such an ambition is a natural one, even an admirable one, for a pair of math whizzes with vast quantities of cash at their disposal and a small army of computer scientists in their employ. A fundamentally scientific enterprise, Google is motivated by a desire to use technology, in Eric Schmidt’s words, “to solve problems that have never been solved before,” and artificial intelligence is the hardest problem out there. Why wouldn’t Brin and Page want to be the ones to crack it?
Still, their easy assumption that we’d all “be better off” if our brains were supplemented, or even replaced, by an artificial intelligence is unsettling. It suggests a belief that intelligence is the output of a mechanical process, a series of discrete steps that can be isolated, measured, and optimized. In Google’s world, the world we enter when we go online, there’s little place for the fuzziness of contemplation. Ambiguity is not an opening for insight but a bug to be fixed. The human brain is just an outdated computer that needs a faster processor and a bigger hard drive.
The idea that our minds should operate as high-speed data processing machines is not only built into the workings of the Internet, it is the network’s reigning business model as well. The faster we surf across the Web—the more links we click and pages we view—the more opportunities Google and other companies gain to collect information about us and to feed us advertisements. Most of the proprietors of the commercial Internet have a financial stake in collecting the crumbs of data we leave behind as we flit from link to link—the more crumbs, the better. The last thing these companies want is to encourage leisurely reading or slow, concentrated thought. It’s in their economic interest to drive us to distraction.
Maybe I’m just a worrywart. Just as there’s a tendency to glorify technological progress, there’s a countertendency to expect the worst of every new tool or machine. In Plato’s Phaedrus, Socrates bemoaned the development of writing. He feared that, as people came to rely on the written word as a substitute for the knowledge they used to carry inside their heads, they would, in the words of one of the dialogue’s characters, “cease to exercise their memory and become forgetful.” And because they would be able to “receive a quantity of information without proper instruction,” they would “be thought very knowledgeable when they are for the most part quite ignorant.” They would be “filled with the conceit of wisdom instead of real wisdom.” Socrates wasn’t wrong—the new technology did often have the effects he feared—but he was shortsighted. He couldn’t foresee the many ways that writing, and reading would serve to spread information, spur fresh ideas, and expand human knowledge (if not wisdom).
The arrival of Gutenberg’s printing press, in the 15th century, set off another round of teeth gnashing. The Italian humanist Hieronimo Squarciafico worried that the easy availability of books would lead to intellectual laziness, making men “less studious” and weakening their minds. Others argued that cheaply printed books and broadsheets would undermine religious authority, demean the work of scholars and scribes, and spread sedition and debauchery. As New York University professor Clay Shirky notes, “Most of the arguments made against the printing press were correct, even prescient.” But, again, the doomsayers were unable to imagine the myriad blessings that the printed word would deliver.
So, yes, you should be skeptical of my skepticism. Perhaps those who dismiss critics of the Internet as Luddites or nostalgists will be proved correct, and from our hyperactive, data-stoked minds will spring a golden age of intellectual discovery and universal wisdom. Then again, the Net isn’t the alphabet, and although it may replace the printing press, it produces something altogether different. The kind of deep reading that a sequence of printed pages promotes is valuable not just for the knowledge we acquire from the author’s words but for the intellectual vibrations those words set off within our own minds. In the quiet spaces opened up by the sustained, undistracted reading of a book, or by any other act of contemplation, for that matter, we make our own associations, draw our own inferences and analogies, foster our own ideas.
Deep reading, as Maryanne Wolf argues, is indistinguishable from deep thinking.
If we lose those quiet spaces, or fill them up with “content,” we will sacrifice something important not only in our selves but in our culture. In a recent essay, the playwright Richard Foreman eloquently described what’s at stake:
I come from a tradition of Western culture, in which the ideal (my ideal) was the complex, dense and “cathedral- like” structure of the highly educated and articulate personality—a man or woman who carried inside them- selves a personally constructed and unique version of the entire heritage of the West. [But now] I see within us all (myself included) the replacement of complex inner density with a new kind of self—evolving under the pressure of information overload and the technology of the “instantly available.”
As we are drained of our “inner repertory of dense cultural inheritance,” Foreman concluded, we risk turning into ‘“pancake people’—spread wide and thin as we connect with that vast net- work of information accessed by the mere touch of a button.”
I’m haunted by that scene in 2001. What makes it so poignant, and so weird, is the computer’s emotional response to the disassembly of its mind: its despair as one circuit after another goes dark, its childlike pleading with the astronaut—“I can feel it. I can feel it. I’m afraid”—and its final reversion to what can only be called a state of innocence, HAL’S outpouring of feeling contrasts with the emotionlessness that characterizes the human figures in the film, who go about their business with an almost robotic efficiency. Their thoughts and actions feel scripted, as if they’re following the steps of an algorithm. In the world of 2001, people have become so machinelike that the most human character turns out to be a machine. That’s the essence of Kubrick’s dark prophecy: as we come to rely on computers to mediate our under- standing of the world, it is our own intelligence that flattens into artificial intelligence.
Nicholas Carr’s articles about technology and culture have been published in a number of prominent national periodicals. This article originally appeared in The Atlantic in 2008 and was later expanded into a book The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains, a New York Times bestseller and a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.
Critical Reading Questions
ANALYSIS: Write an analysis essay discussing use of narration to substantiate his main idea.
All Men Can’t Jump
By David Stipp
At first glance the annual Man vs. Horse Marathon, set for June 9 in Wales, seems like a joke sport brought to us by the same brilliant minds behind dwarf tossing and gravy wrestling. It was, after all, the product of a pints-fueled debate in a Welsh pub, and for years its official starter was rock musician Screaming Lord Sutch, founder of the Official Monster Raving Loony Party. But the jokiness is misleading: When viewed through science’s clarifying lens, the funny marathon is one of the few sports that isn’t a joke.
Hear me out, sports fans—I’m a basketball nut myself, and so the joke is as much on me as anyone. To see where I’m com- ing from, you can’t do better than examining basketball’s most physically talented player, Michael Jordan. He was hailed as nearly repealing the law of gravity, and during his prime he made rival players look as if they were moving in slow motion. But Air Jordan wasn’t in the same league as a house cat when it comes to leaping. Consider how casually young cats can jump up onto refrigerators. To match that, a man would have to do a standing jump right over the backboard. And a top-notch Frisbee dog corkscrewing through the air eight feet up to snag a whizzing disc makes Jordan look decidedly human when it comes to the fantastic quickness, agility, strength, and ballistic precision various animals are endowed with.
There’s no denying it—our kind started substituting brains for brawn long ago, and it shows: We can’t begin to compete with animals when it comes to the raw ingredients of athletic prowess. Yet being the absurdly self-enthralled species we are, we crowd into arenas and stadiums to marvel at our pathetic physical abilities as if they were something special. But there is one exception to our general paltriness: We’re the right honorable kings and queens of the planet when it comes to long-distance running.
The Wales marathon has helped demonstrate that. Its originator was a Welsh pub owner named Gordon Green. One day in 1979 he got into an argument with an equestrian friend about the relative strengths of men and horses as distance runners. Green insisted a human could beat a horse in a long race, and to prove his point he helped instigate the marathon in 1980. For the next 24 years, he found himself losing the argument as riders on horse- back left human runners behind. But then it finally happened—in 2004 a British man named Huw Lobb won. Three years later Germany’s Florian Holzinger outran the horses, as did one other human contestant. The media loved it—a predictable farce had become a man-bites-dog story. Bookies were less enthused; they had to pay out on bets made at 16-to-1 odds favoring the horses.
The oddsmakers would have known better if they’d been following the work of Harvard anthropologist Daniel Lieberman and University of Utah biologist Dennis Bramble. They jointly proposed in a 2004 paper that we’re superlatively endowed by evolution to go long. Our long-striding legs are packed with spring- like tendons, muscles, and ligaments that enable us to briefly store elastic energy as we come down on a foot and then recoil to help propel us forward. Tellingly, the most important of these springs, our big, strong Achilles tendons, aren’t found in early human pre- cursors such as Australopithecus—it seems that the high-end ten- dons evolved along with other adaptations for distance running in the genus Homo when it appeared on the African savannah about 2 million years ago.
We’ve inherited large leg and foot joints from those ancestors, which spread out high forces that must be absorbed when running. To help ensure stability on two legs, we have big gluteus maximus muscles. (Chimps, which are incapable of distance running, have comparatively tiny butts.) Our clever torsos are designed to “counter- rotate” versus the hips as we run, also aiding stability. And we have an unusually large percentage of fatigue-resistant, slow-twitch muscle fibers, which make for endurance rather than speed. By contrast, most animals are geared for sprinting because they’re either predators that chase or prey that run away, and their muscles thus have much higher percentages of fast-twitch fibers than ours. (Cheetahs’ hind-leg muscles are the fast-twitch-richest of all.)
But what most sets us apart as runners is that we’re really cool—we naked apes are champion sweaters and can dissipate body heat faster than any other large mammal. Our main rivals for the endurance-running crown fall into two groups: migratory ungulates, such as horses and wildebeest, and social carnivores, such as dogs and hyenas. They can easily out-sprint us by galloping. But none can gallop very far without overheating—they largely rely on panting to keep cool, and they can’t pant when galloping, for panting involves taking very rapid, shallow breaths that would interfere with respiration when running. Dogs can gallop for only about 10 to 15 minutes before reverting to a trot, and so their distance-running speed tops out at about 3.8 meters per second. Horses’ average distance-running speed is 5.8 meters per second— a canter. Wildebeests’ is 5.1 meters per second.
Elite human runners, however, can sustain speeds up to 6.5 meters per second. Even run-of-the-mill joggers typically do between 3.2 and 4.2 meters per second, which means they can outrun dogs at distances greater than two kilometers.
Our “sustainable distance” is also hard to beat. African hunting dogs typically travel an average of 10 kilometers a day. Wolves and hyenas tend to go about 14 and 19 kilometers, respectively. In repeated distance runs, horses can cover about 20 kilometers a day. Vast throngs of human runners, by comparison, routinely run 42.2-kilometer marathons in just a few hours, and each year tens of thousands of people complete ultra-marathons of 100 kilometers and longer. (A few animals can match that under special circum- stances. Huskies can trot up to 100 kilometers in Arctic conditions when forced to by people. But in warmer climes—no way.)
Given all this, you might wonder why it took so long for a human to win the Man vs. Horse Marathon. For one thing, the world’s top runners rarely compete in oddball races in rural Wales. And the 22-mile run (the Welsh race is shorter than the standard 26.2-mile marathon) through a damp, shady landscape doesn’t usually heat-stress horses much, thus largely negating the human runners’ edge. (Not surprisingly, the weather has been notably warm when men prevailed.) Human runners, by the way, have also sometimes won the annual Man Against Horse Race in Prescott, Ariz., in which contestants clamber up and down a mountain on 50 miles of rocky trails.
But how did we get this way? After all, our brainy, tool-using ancestors could have just sneaked up on prey animals and brought them down with a spear or arrow. Why did evolution shape us as great distance runners?
The answer, argue Lieberman and Bramble, is that snares, nets, and really effective projectile weapons, such as the bow and arrow, were probably invented by Homo sapiens—modern humans. There’s no evidence that early Stone Age hunters had weapons much better than sharp sticks. Such armaments would have required them to kill prey animals at close quarters, where they would have been at high risk of getting fatally gored, bitten, or kicked. Thus, they probably obtained meat mainly via “persistence hunting”—chasing an antelope, for instance, until it was nearly keeling over with heat exhaustion—and scavenging. The latter was very much a running game: When distant, circling vultures tipped them off about a lion kill, they had to get there before hyenas, which strip everything edible from carcasses. And they typically could only outrace hyenas in the hot sun. As a result, they carved out a new carnivore niche: the hot-day meat chaser.
Intriguingly, existing hunter-gatherers still sometimes resort to persistence hunting in hot weather. That’s because the nutritional payoffs can greatly exceed the energy costs of running down meat for us fleet-footed types. In fact, our ancestors’ meat-rich diets probably contributed to the evolution of modern human traits, such as small guts, small teeth, and big brains.
Elaborating on this idea, Mark Mattson, a neuroscientist at the National Institute on Aging, has proposed that our kind evolved superior smarts partly because they helped us record and recall the complex details we encountered when running after food—landmarks, tracking clues, location of water sources, and so on. The fact that endurance exercise is known to stimulate neuronal growth in the brain’s memory-forming hippocampus suggests he’s right. A related recent study also suggests that natural selection endowed us with the ability to experience the “runner’s high,” wiring the brain so that endurance exercise lights up its “endo- cannabinoid” system in a pleasurable way to reinforce a tendency toward high-intensity running.
In sum, you might say we were born to run. But you also might just as well say we ran to be born. Come to think of it, that would make a seriously good motto for the Wales marathon.
David Stipp has written extensively about science in a number of national publications, including The Wall Street Journal, Salon, and Science. In 1998 he won a National Association of Science Writers’ award for best magazine article. In this article, published in the online magazine Slate in 2012, Stipp explores human nature as it is revealed in our athletic abilities.
Critical Reading Questions
ANALYSIS: Write an essay analyzing Stipp’s use of cause and effect.
American Sci-Fi and The Other
By Ursula Le Guin
One of the great early socialists said that the status of women in a society is a pretty reliable index of the degree of civilization of that society. If this is true, then the very low status of women in science fiction (SF) should make us ponder about whether SF is civilized at all.
The women’s movement has made most of us conscious of the fact that SF has either totally ignored women or presented them as squeaking dolls subject to instant rape by monsters—or old-maid scientists desexed by hypertrophy of the intellectual organs—or, at best, loyal little wives or mistresses of accomplished heroes. Male elitism has run rampant in SF. But is it only male elitism? Isn’t the “subjection of women” in SF merely a symptom of a whole which is authoritarian, power-worshiping and intensely parochial?
The question involved here is the question of The Other—the being who is different from yourself. This being can be different from you in its sex; or in its annual income; or in its way of speaking and dressing and doing things; or in the color of its skin, or the number of its legs and heads. In other words, there is the sexual Alien, and the social Alien, and the cultural Alien, and finally the racial Alien.
Well, how about the social Alien in SF? How about, in Marxist terms, “the proletariat”? Where are they in SF? Where are the poor, the people who work hard and go to bed hungry? Are they ever persons, in SF? No. They appear as vast anonymous masses fleeing from giant slime-globules from the Chicago sewers, or dying off by the billion from pollution or radiation, or as face- less armies being led to battle by generals and statesmen. In sword and sorcery they behave like the walk-on parts in a high-school performance of The Chocolate Prince. Now and then there’s a busty lass amongst them who is honored by the attentions of the Captain of the Supreme Terran Command, or in a spaceship crew there’s a quaint old cook, with a Scots or Swedish accent, representing the Wisdom of the Common Folk.
The people, in SF, are not people. They are masses, existing for one purpose: to be led by their superiors.
From a social point of view most SF has been incredibly regressive and unimaginative. All those Galactic Empires, taken straight from the British Empire of 1880. All those planets—with 80 trillion miles between them!—conceived of as warring nation- states, or as colonies to be exploited, or to be nudged by the benev- olent Imperium of Earth toward self-development—the White Man’s Burden all over again. The Rotary Club on Alpha Centauri, that’s the size of it.
What about the cultural and the racial Other? This is the Alien everybody recognizes as alien, supposed to be the special concern of SF. Well, in the old pulp SF, it’s very simple. The only good alien is a dead alien—whether he is an Aldebaranian Mantis- Man or a German dentist. And this tradition still flourishes: witness Larry Niven’s story “Inconstant Moon” (in All the Myriad Ways, 1971), which has a happy ending—consisting of the fact that America, including Los Angeles, was not hurt by a solar flare. Of course a few million Europeans and Asians were fried, but that doesn’t matter, it just makes the world a little safer for democracy, in fact. (It is interesting that the female character in the same story is quite brainless; her only function is to say Oh? and Ooooh! to the clever and resourceful hero.)
Then there’s the other side of the same coin. If you hold a thing to be totally different from yourself, your fear of it may come out as hatred, or as awe—reverence. So we get all those wise and kindly beings who deign to rescue Earth from her sins and perils. The Alien ends up on a pedestal in a white nightgown and a virtu- ous smirk—exactly as the “good woman” did in the Victorian Age.
In America, it seems to have been Stanley Weinbaum who invented the sympathetic alien, in A Martian Odyssey. From then on, via people like Cyril Kornbluth, Ted Sturgeon and Cordwainer Smith, SF began to inch its way out of simple racism. Robots—the alien intelligence—begin to behave nicely. With Smith, interest- ingly enough, the racial alien is combined with the social alien, in the “Underpeople,” and they are allowed to have a revolution. As the aliens got more sympathetic, so did the heroes. They began to have emotions, as well as rayguns. Indeed they began to become almost human.
If you deny any affinity with another person or kind of per- son, if you declare it to be wholly different from yourself—as men have done to women, and class has done to class, and nation has done to nation—you may hate it or deify it; but in either case you have denied its spiritual equality and its human reality. You have made it into a thing, to which the only possible relationship is a power relationship. And thus you have fatally impoverished your own reality. You have, in fact, alienated yourself.
This tendency has been remarkably strong in American SF. The only social change presented by most SF has been toward authoritarianism, the domination of ignorant masses by a pow- erful elite—sometimes presented as a warning, but often quite complacently. Socialism is never considered as an alternative, and democracy is quite forgotten. Military virtues are taken as ethical ones. Wealth is assumed to be a righteous goal and a personal vir- tue. Competitive free-enterprise capitalism is the economic destiny of the entire Galaxy. In general American SF has assumed a per- manent hierarchy of superiors and inferiors, with rich, ambitious, aggressive males at the top, then a great gap, and then at the bottom the poor, the uneducated, the faceless masses, and all the women. The whole picture is, if I may say so, curiously “un-American.” It is a perfect baboon patriarchy, with the Alpha Male on top, being respectfully groomed, from time to time, by his inferiors.
Is this speculation? Is this imagination? Is this extrapolation? I call it brainless regressivism.
I think it’s time SF writers—and their readers!—stopped daydreaming about a return to the age of Queen Victoria, and started thinking about the future. I would like to see the Baboon Ideal replaced by a little human idealism, and some serious consid- eration of such deeply radical, futuristic concepts as
Liberty, Equality and Fraternity. And remember that about 53 percent of the Brotherhood of Man is the Sisterhood of Woman.
Many of Ursula Le Guin’s most memorable science fiction novels, like The Left Hand of Darkness and The Dispossessed, deal with social and cultural themes that explore the nature of identity. This essay deals with the familiar science fiction convention of the alien and explores its cultural implications.
Critical Reading Questions
ANALYSIS: Write an essay analyzing Le Guin’s use of examples to substantiate her main idea.
Instructions: For this peer workshop, you will review each other’s analysis outlines. The following checklist and questions below are meant to help each other better strengthen your initial writing. Only check off the following components if they are clearly present in your peer mate’s outline. Whenever possible, identify these components by underlining them. If something is missing or is unclear, please specify and provide help!
BRAINSTORMING THE ANALYSIS ESSAY
Instructions: Before beginning to write your Textual Analysis essay, it is important that you answer the following questions in this brainstorming exercise. Each critical thinking question is set to help you assemble a rough outline of your discoveries of the text you are analyzing. It is suggested that you write your answers on a separate sheet of paper or better yet, type it up!
Before you begin reading, refer to your Overview of Purpose, Pattern, Process course packet and write down the characteristics for each purpose (expressive, literary, referential, persuasive).
Read the text, considering the purpose of writing and patterns of organization. If you see examples of the purpose of writing, characteristics, or anything else, mark them by highlighting, underlining or making notes on the margins (annotate! RSPC Method!). Below write down some examples of the things you discovered in the text.
Read the essay again to determine the primary patterns of organization (classification, narration, description, evaluation). Mark, highlight and underline examples of the patterns of organization. Below write down some examples. Don’t forget to also cite!
Now you are ready to start composing your essay. You may type or handwrite the following either in this writing strategy sheet or in a separate sheet of paper. After you are finished, assemble each of these sections together. Be sure to edit your sentences for correct grammar and punctuation and clear wording.
PARAGRAPH 1 (Intro/Summary)
PARAGRAPH 2 (Analysis)
PARAGRAPH 3 (Analysis)
1.Start this paragraph with a topic sentence that notes the primary pattern of organization.
2.Then give at least two examples that shows this pattern of organization at work.
Explain how the pattern of organization occurs in the example and how the pattern is used to develop support for the primary purpose (or audience).
PARAGRAPH 4 (Evaluation)
ESSAY 4 CHECKLIST
Instructions: Below is a checklist of things you must complete before submitting your first essay.
☐ Double-checked the Essay 4 Guidelines to make sure you followed all of the essay requirements?
☐ Read through the draft to make sure your analysis is complete, and your essay clearly organized and sufficiently developed to make your ideas comprehensive for your readers?
☐ Read the essay from the last sentence to the first, checking that each sentence accomplishes the following:
☐ Makes sense on its own.
☐ Is not a run-on or fragment?
☐ Capitalized words correctly
☐ Contains periods and proper punctuation in all sentences
☐ Contains correct verb forms and tenses
☐ Sites sources using parenthetical citations within the text
☐ Contains a proper Work Cited as the last page of the essay
☐ All sources in your essay explicitly listed in your Work Cited.
ESSAY 4: UNIT WRITING RECAP
Instructions: Take a moment to reflect on your writing process for your Analysis Essay.
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