ENG 212 [ VOL E ] & THE NAMESAKE
Sexuality and Sexual Identity = One of the biggest connections that Ginsberg feels with Whitman (and Garcia Lorca) is that the poets were gay men, in times when being gay was not exactly a-okay with most of the population; feels outside of the mainstream while he wanders through the supermarket and through the darkened streets, and part of the reason for this is his alternative sexual identity (admires the families that he sees in the supermarket, and creates his own alternative family of gay poets)
Visions of America = poem doesn’t use the word “America” until the end of the poem, but that doesn’t mean this one’s not all about our fair nation. Ginsberg imagines an America that fits a very 1950s ideal: blue automobiles in driveways of suburban homes, whole families shopping together. The speaker feels like an outsider in this America, which is all about the things you can buy; he conjures up Whitman who, he hopes, represents a “lost America of love,” which was more about love than about things. But in the last line of the poem, the speaker calls all this into question: was there really ever an “America of love”? Or, like Walt Whitman, is this all a fantasy?
Whitman = Like Ginsberg, Whitman was a gay man living in an America that was often, if not almost always, hostile to gay men and women. The speaker’s relationship with Whitman is not just about poetry, then. Whitman comes to represent a lifestyle as well
Society and Class = looks at class and social divisions in the southern United States in the 1950s (or thereabouts). Mrs. Hopewell is a wealthy landowner who sees her employees as beneath her because of their lower economic class, and she further divides working class folks into the categories of “trash” and “good country people.” It isn’t quite clear what the criteria are for membership in either of these classes, though.
Religion = O’Connor said, “I write the way I do because I am a Catholic.” “Good Country People” sets up an opposition between believing in God and believing in nothing, which is only halfway playful. While Hulga is open, honest, and seemingly committed to her atheism, the seemingly Christian characters are not devoted to their beliefs. Mrs. Hopewell doesn’t care about the Bible, and Manley uses it to get the things he needs—money, food, prosthetic limbs, and the like. Like people long overdue for communion, this book is filled with sinners.
Manley Pointer = a traveling Bible salesman, which sounds great until we’re told that he’s “from out in the country around Willohobie, not even from a place, just near a place” (40). Pro tip: When a character is “not even from a place,” it’s usually not a good sign. Right away, we’re given a hint that he’s elusive, hard to pin down; uses his perceived status as simple and good country folk to get what he wants; something sneaky, perhaps even predatory (sees Hulga as a trapped animal, as a creature to be claimed ((leg)) )
Mrs. Hopewell = A divorced, single woman running a successful farm in the southern U.S. in the 1950s, Mrs. Hopewell may be nice, but she’s definitely not meek; complains about her daughter’s “attitude” (13), but also feels super sorry for her because of her leg, her heart condition, and because she hasn’t “had any normal good times”; hypocrite; superiority complex
Mrs. Freeman = servant; final lines of the story suggest that Mrs. Freeman, like Manley, sees much more than her employer and Hulga. She may be good country people, but this doesn’t mean what her employer thinks it does—instead, it implies an ability to see the world around her for what it truly is. The freedom she embodies, then, is the ability to see, to accurately assess and respond. In this way, while she may never own her own land, she owns her life in ways that completely elude Mrs. Hopewell and Hulga.
Glasses = issues with glasses and glass eyes are meant to signal vision changes in characters. Yes, literally, but also symbolically: They let us know people are seeing the world around them differently; typical O’Conner Paradox = Hulga must give up her glasses—devices which augment her vision—to gain a more creative, and perhaps more emotional, way of seeing the world.
Hollowed out Bible = filled with booze, cards, and condoms, seems like a no-brainer as a symbol. His hollowed out Bible represents the hollowness of his belief in Christianity—it just isn’t there.
Exploration = Exploration is the activity that takes place in this poem. Whatever else the speaker is doing or feeling or saying, she is diving down into the ocean to explore. We are used to this idea of exploring a shipwreck. Whether it’s videos of the sunken Titanic or stories about diving for pirate gold, we know about people in wet suits looking at old ships. What this poem suggests, though, is that exploration might not just refer to looking at a ship. There might be other kinds of emotional, internal exploration going on here.
Man and the Natural World = amazing, maybe even transcendental, experience underwater. Everything about the ocean world is fascinating, new, and intense. We aren’t merely looking at nature in this poem, we are fully plunged into it. This poem is about exploring and changing and feeling, but on a simple level it’s a story about how we come into contact with nature.
Knife = Expects things to get dangers; trio is a metaphor for any number of different ideas: The camera that traps memories, the knife that kills, the book that holds nothing but lies. They are necessary for the dive, but they are also potentially harmful.
Ladder = We become conscious that ladders are a way to change our position, to move up or down. In this case, the move down will take the diver into another world; “hanging there innocently”: If you aren’t going down that ladder, it doesn’t mean anything to you. So it looks innocent, it covers up its purpose. In reality though, it can transport you to a completely different place, which is what it does to the diver; The ladder is a way down, but it is also an obstacle. The diver is already weighed down by flippers, a mask, a suit, and other diving equipment. So getting down that ladder is no small task. To show how awkward this is, Rich uses a simile, comparing the clumsy diver to an insect. The move into another world isn’t going to be an easy one.
Ocean = huge, deeply powerful, magical and a little scary. It swallowed the ship and it surrounds the diver. It’s about as wild and as natural as you can get; diver can’t see it as she moves down the ladder and this makes the ocean frightening, like something that could jump up and bite you; The diver is learning to move underwater, to get used to the feeling of actually being “inside” the ocean. The ocean is completely in control though, and the diver can’t fight it, can’t use his or her power; The speaker describes the log as being “water-eaten.” It seems like an ordinary thing to say, but it gives an image of the ocean as a kind of animal. It gnaws and chews and slowly devours all the human things that fall into it. It has a slow, inescapable power that makes it a scary force in this poem.
Mortality = When the speaker’s father dies, she sees killing herself as a way to become reunited with him. She also declares that she has to kill him. This poem explores the paradoxes of death, the afterlife, and memories of the past. After all, “Daddy” is addressed to a dead person.
Supernatural = addressed to someone who is dead, which already makes the poem pretty supernatural. But it goes even further: there are vampires, devils, and a statue that crosses the entire United States. The speaker, when she tries to die, is even stuck back together with glue. The supernatural elements of this poem make it eerie, and fascinating to read.
Language and Communication = addressing her dead father, who she had problems talking to even when he was alive. Maybe this is because he was a German immigrant and couldn’t speak English well, or maybe it was because she was scared of him, but in any case, the German language plays into her difficulties. At the end of the poem, the speaker cuts off communications with her father for good. The speaker’s struggle to communicate with her father causes her great suffering, demonstrating the power of language.
Nazis and Holocaust = German father is like a Nazi, and that she is like a Jew. This is a very powerful metaphor for how the speaker feels like she is a victim of her father, or perhaps for how she feels about men in general.
Communication/Phone = As we have seen, the speaker has a hard time talking to her father, and eventually stops trying. Yet, this entire poem is addressed to the speaker’s father; with 80 lines, it seems she desperately wants to say something to him. The knowledge that her father will never read this poem is probably what enables the speaker to write it.
Family = “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” (Leo Tolstoy); explores many different types of families: the extended Bengali family and its customs; American families; smaller nuclear families; families with divorced parents; families with mixed race parents; young parents and their children. Each generation has its own way of being happy or unhappy, with each succeeding generation deciding whether to stick with their parents’ customs, or to come up with a few of their own.
Foreignness and ‘the Other’= characters are constantly making comparisons between Indian and American life. For Indian immigrants such as Ashima and Ashoke, many aspects of American culture are foreign to them, and they also feel like strangers in American society. They struggle to maintain certain Indian traditions, while adapting to American customs, such as Christmas, for the sake of their children. Indian-American characters such as Gogol and Moushumi often feel foreign in both India and America, as though they’re lost in between the world of their parents and the world in which they were born. They often feel like tourists, only, unlike most tourists, they have no chance of a homecoming.
Society and Class = The main Indian-American characters grow up with parents who are educated professionals; they graduate from Ivy League universities and enter similarly elite careers such as architecture and academia. But these characters often envy the lifestyle of their Anglo-American peers, who come from well-to-do families, who have never had to pull themselves up by their bootstraps the way their Indian parents have. Many of the characters (we’re looking at you, Gogol) are acutely conscious of how possessions and property reflect class status.
Ashima = heart of the story. While the other characters don’t show a lot of emotion, Ashima is the one who feels. So it’s through her that we can really come to understand the feelings of alienation, culture shock, and homesickness that many immigrants feel.
Ashoke = Though he, like his wife, tries to hold on to Bengali traditions, he also wants very much to make their American life work, and he tries hard to fit in in some ways. Ashoke is no fool. He knows his family won’t make it in America if they don’t make efforts to assimilate. As the family’s breadwinner, it’s possible that he, more than anyone else, struggles to strike a balance between assimilating into American culture and holding on to his own.
Moushumi Mazoomdar = their marriage is a “mistake”: “They had both sought comfort in each other, and in their shared world, perhaps for the sake of novelty, or out of the fear that the world is slowly dying.” (12.15) They have a “shared world,” sure, but Moushumi is also something new for Gogol, who has only dated white women so far. Dating an Indian is new for Moushumi, too; Affair = She is not afraid to take risks, even if those risks just might end her marriage. She’ll do anything to leave behind her Bengali roots and forge a life on her own terms.
Sonia = Perhaps it’s her lack of a pet name that makes her better suited to adapting to life in America. Even as a child, she seems more at ease with her Indian-American identity than Gogol, who always feels alienated because of his unusual first name. When Ashoke dies, she moves home to be with Ashima, leaving behind her life in San Francisco without much of a backward glance. In the end, her character provides an illuminating contrast to Gogol’s. Where he is awkward and uncomfortable with his own identity, she is well adjusted. We guess that annaprasan(true American bc grabbed money) is accurate after all.
Maxine = (like Sonia) is comfortable in her own skin. She has no hang-ups about her identity. She is not worried about fitting in. This is a source of attraction for Gogol, but also a source of envy. He has never been so at ease, and he wishes he knew how to be; freedom but also represents distance from his family, from his roots. In the end, that’s what drives these two lovebirds apart. The closer he gets to Maxine, the farther Gogol travels from his family, and when his dad dies, Maxine becomes a symbol of that distance, and the guilt that comes with it.
Food = goes to show a connection or disconnect between a character and his or her culture.
Motherhood = what makes a real mom? what is her power?
Race = duh
Economics = how does it change the way in which we’re late to each other
Identity = how do you identify yourself outside of race
Trauma/Memory = a loose connection such as a biased memory can trigger trauma and vice versa
History = who are you here versus what you can be then; american cultural history and episodic personal history
Roberta = other protagonist, sometimes antagonist? goes down completely opposite path than mother and someone lucks up and marries rich, never has kids of her own; oblivious to the real versus superficial
Maggie = girls see themselves in her; defenseless and cast out into the world; lash out at maggie to lash out defenselessness you feel in yourself
Art as Insight = The narrator, his wife, and Robert find insight and meaning in their experiences through poetry, drawing, and storytelling. According to the narrator, his wife writes a couple of poems every year to mark events that were important in her life, including the time Robert touched her face. The narrator doesn’t like the poems but admits that he might not understand them. The narrator gains insight into his own life when he draws a picture of a cathedral with Robert, realizing for the first time that looking inward is a way to gain greater knowledge and a deeper understanding of himself. Robert, too, gleans insight from the drawing. Although it’s unlikely that he was able to visualize what the narrator drew, he shares the experience of the narrator’s awakening. The narrator’s mere act of retelling the story of his epiphany helps him make sense of his newfound understanding.
Robert = The blind man. Robert visits the narrator and his wife after his own wife, Beulah, dies. He is a caring, easygoing man who sets even the narrator at ease. He encourages the narrator to draw a cathedral when the narrator is unable to describe one in words.
The Narrator’s Wife = A nameless woman who invites Robert to their home. The wife has kept in touch with Robert since they met ten years ago, exchanging audiotapes with him and telling him everything about her life. Before she married the narrator, she’d been married to a military officer and was so unhappy that she tried to kill herself.
Audiotapes= The audiotapes that Robert and the narrator’s wife send back and forth to each other represent the kind of understanding and empathy that has nothing to do with sight.
Tragedy = characters who have to confront the tragedy inherent in life. Tragedy can be understood as forces outside of human control. The most extreme example of tragedy; the tragedy of Scotty’s death is devastating, but it ironically brings the couple to serious realizations about themselves and opens them up to a greater understanding of their loneliness and desperation to be connected to others.
Howard = The father in “A Small, Good Thing.” He lives a comfortable, easy life and feels blessed before his son Scotty is hit by a car and hospitalized. He wants to stay rational about Scotty’s recovery to keep his grieving wife under control, but is only sporadically able to mange such rationality.
Scotty = The son in “A Small, Good Thing.” A sweet kid who spends most of the story unconscious after being hit by a car. He dies in the story.
Baker = For most of “A Small, Good Thing,” a villainous figure. He is curt and unfriendly when Ann first orders Scotty’s birthday cake from him, and then makes ominous phone calls to their home after the boy’s injury prevents them from picking up the cake. In the final scene, he reveals himself to be deeply lonely and conflicted, and becomes a restorative figure for the grieving parents.
cinnamon bun = literal breaking of bread; suggestion of grace; taking communion with them and they become human in each other’s presence at least temporarily
Labor = Dad is a laborer; comprised and surrounded by his labor and can builds things but fails to say things, highlighted by his illiteracy (abusive but cannot communicate in other ways); idea of emotional set of tools and physical set of tools
Regret/Guilt = Regret over not appreciating what was there when he had it, ungrateful and drove it away
Father = abusive and an illiterate laborer who spends his days working and his nights obliging his kid to write letters to his runaway wife (who probably got a restraining letter against him if they know where to send the letters)
Mother = Never see her, not really mentioned; ghost figments of her but no personality or truth besides that she left
Fists balled = Violence transformed; used to hit wife with them but now uses them in frustration because he still cannot find the adequate words to communicate
Class = People who are of a lower class are more prone to accidental deaths in this time and age, exhibited by Lem and the balloon incident
Lem = best friend who drowns in The Event due to a drunken dare; the two were traveling together from Tennessee o make something of themselves; plays the mandolin
Mandolin = by self-expression and way of connecting with the world
Mortality = What does it mean to survive just because you did? Life is so fragile and can be extinguished at any moment so why feel as if your life has anymore value than another’s?
Workers = two who jumped off safely and man who jumped off too late and plummeted to his horrifying death
Zeppelin = Whale’s belly; old testament allusion to trials of being tested; purgatory of sorts where Lem “is”
The Old West vs. the New West = Austin is the representative of the order created by the suburban new West while Lee is the representative of the desert old West and the chaos it represents. In the end it seems that the chaos is the stronger force. The wild terrain slowly encroaches upon and eventually takes over the kitchen. Indeed, by the end of the play it is hard to imagine a more devastated room. In Shepard’s view, however, the order of the suburbs is the faulty ideal in the first place. One cannot form a real identity within its confines; only the freedom represented by the chaos of the desert can allow for that. It is this freedom that the old man has sought, that Lee has experienced, and that Austin now seeks out himself.
Art as a Business vs. Art as an Ideal = Shepard investigates this tenuous relationship between artist and businessman throughout the play. The question becomes how one can endeavor to create art and then get paid for it. Shepard explores the idea of what has happened to art for art’s sake. Art, as it now exists inside the system of commerce we have created for ourselves, is just another commodity that can be bought and sold, as we see in the clueless Hollywood juggernaut Saul represents. Real art is almost impossible to create under the pressures of economic necessity.
The Fallibility of the American Dream = One of Shepard’s major ideas in True West is that what most Americans have taught to want and value is all wrong. Indeed, money makes the world go round, but Shepard contends that one does not have to go around with it. In True West he offers a contrary vision to the traditional American Dream that infuses so much of our life and literature. Austin realizes that his entire identity—which, since his youth, has focused solely on achieving this dream—is completely wrong. What is right, instead, is to paint outside the lines and form an identity on one’s own terms. For Austin that means giving up everything he has worked for and retreating to the desert.
Lee = Austin’s brother. Lee is a beer-swilling desert rat and petty thief who has come to their mother’s house to loot the neighbors of household appliances. He is the exact opposite of his brother in looks, sensibility, and degree of success; hustler.
Saul Kimmer = A slick Hollywood producer. While Shepard’s characterization of Saul could easily have descended into parody, Saul remains real all the way through the play. He is as sincere as anyone who is motivated only by profit can be.
Mom = An absurdist vision of a powerless mother. Mom thinks Picasso is coming to town and quietly asks Austin not to kill Lee.
The “Old Man” = Austin and Lee’s father. Though the “old man” does not himself appear in the play as a character, his influence and presence haunts the brothers and drives much of the play’s events and the motivations of its characters.
Houseplants = are symbols of the order and structure that pervade the suburbs of the new West. Austin’s only job while he is house-sitting for his mother is to tend the houseplants and make sure they are watered. For a while he does his job, remembering to take care of the plants. But as Austin begins to realize that the ideals he has and the identity he has formed for himself are contrary to what he believes is right and true, he begins to neglect the houseplants. By the end of the play the plants are all dead. When Mom returns from Alaska, she said she has done so because she has missed her houseplants. For her they represent the order upon which she has come to rely so heavily. On seeing the plants dead, Mom leaves the house, unable to cope with the sense of chaos that has invaded her home.
Toaster = archetype for the most boring character to date
Phone cord = cord is not himself but an extension of himself and a way to communicate a way a phone would but the brothers cannot communicate with one another; ironic
Car key = escape; literal access to the car and freedom