Friday, December 7, 2007

The Renaissance and it's Impact On Our 21st Century 12/10

While the Harlem Renaissance may seem far removed from or lives in the 21st century, I would argue it really isn’t. Many of the themes we have discussed this semester are still relevant. Today, people of all races, still struggle with the “who am I” question, and even famous people of mixed ethnicity address the idea of being treated differently in different situations. (Example: Mariah Carey’s song On the Outside.) Similarly, poems about feeling different or missing your home still express the same sentiments today, even if you don’t know the background of McKay or Cullen. Much like the story of the girl from an immigrant family, who read Hughes’ “Minstrel Man” and applied it to her own personal experience. While the point of this course was not to relate the early 20th century African Americans experience to our own lives, I think it’s important to point out many of these themes are universal to the human condition, and in that way have stood the test of time.

What’s more, studying the Harlem Renaissance allows us to evaluate the amazing achievements of a group historically economically, politically, and racial oppressed. While publicity for some African American artists during the Renaissance did not change legal and de-facto segregation, or stop lynching in the south, or even change the economic conditions of many of it’s contributors, it did set in motion a chain of continued progress and advancement. White Americans were now exposed to Jazz, Ragtime, Countee Cullen, and numerous black actors who would rise to an unprecedented level of prominence in the coming decades. African Americans were now written back into history, if not in the text books, in articles and poems written by other African Americans, so that both children and adults could view a documented history that was more than a drawing of an ugly, or worst, blissfully happy slave in a history book. The Advancement of the race through education was stressed, and the next generation realized that they had not just the opportunity, but the obligation to accomplish as much as they could.

The study of events or periods in history requires an understanding of cause and effect relationships. With out the accomplishments of artist, authors, and musicians in the 1920s, the next generation would have lacked a documented history, and perhaps even the sense of identity encouraged by musically art forms and poetry. Certainly without the influence of the Harlem Renaissance, the push to better the next generation and the encouragement of African American doctors, teachers, and social workers would not have had the impacted it did, perhaps occurring much later or not at all. Similarly, without prominent black artists to look up to, the next generation might have well believed that there were only certain jobs for ‘colored children.’
\In this way, the Harlem Renaissance was an integral part of the Civil Rights movement and even the successes of many people today. Thus, in order to really understand today, we have to reflect on yesterday.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

" got tuh go there tuh know there. " 12/3

I was honestly shocked by the ending of Their Eyes Were Watching God. While we know from the beginning that Tea Cake is ‘gone’ his immaturity and pension for gambling and music made me thing that Tea Cake had left Janie. Either to be with one of the women he meets in the Muck, or just to take her money and make a new life for himself. However, the ending turns out much differently than I though.

Here’s a brief re-cap….

Janie and Tea Cake seen to be making a good life for themselves, although Tea Cake’s temper and jealously is hinted at in the beginning of chapter seventeen, when he hits Janie to prove to others (a.k.a. Mrs. Turner) that Janie would not leave him (147-149.) So life is good, until a hurricane hits Florida, flooding the muck. Unfortunately, Janie did not leave when the others evacuated and found themselves stuck in the storm trying to swim to higher ground. Interesting, the reference to people looking to God comes up here as the people of the Muck sit wondering if they will survive the storm (159.)
At one point, Janie and Tea Cake are separated by the storm and Tea Cake instructs her to grab hold of a cow swimming by in order to stay a float. Also using the cow as a flotation device is an angry (we find out later, probably rabid) dog who threatens to attack Janie. However, Tea Cake is able to reach the cow in time and struggles with the dog until he has killed it and thrown it off the cow, but not without sustaining a nasty bite on his check (165-166.) Ultimately, Janie and Tea Cake survive the storm, and after a few days of rest Tea Cake is basically required to help bury the dead (169-172.)

Shortly thereafter, Janie and Tea Cake return to the Muck, where they even find friends they didn’t expect to survive the storm had, and life is good once again, until Tea Cake begins to feel ill and can longer drink even water without chocking. Sadly Dr. Simmons informs Janie that Tea Cake has rabies and there is little they can do for him. He even suggests she send Tea Cake to a hospital or some other place he can be restrained, so that he won’t bite or attack anyone else as his condition worsens. However, Janie informs he she can’t do that, as Tea Cake doesn’t like hospitals and she doesn’t want him to think she no longer wants to take of him. We can also infer that the situation with Tea Cake reminds her of what happened to Jody, and the fact he would not let her cake for him as he got sicker. Obviously, Janie loves Tea Cake and feels as if that dog did in fact succeed in hurting her, for if she must live with out him she might as well be dead. So, she believes all she has to do is wait for the arrival of medicine from Palm Beach and he will get better (174-178.)

However, Tea Cake’s condition quickly worsens. He becomes jealous and confused; convinced that Janie’s trip to see of the doctor for an order of medicine was a secret rendezvou with Mrs. Turner’s brother (180.) When Tea Cake awakens later, Janie even finds he is keeping a pistol under his pillow. In an effort to prevent him from hurting himself, Janie spins the barrel so he will have to fire at least three times before it will shoot, but leaves it there because she is afraid he will get angry. She does however hide his rifle. Still angry and confused, Tea Cake points the pistol at Janie and she attempts to talk him down, but is forced to raise the rifle to Tea Cake when he attempts to fire three times and will not lower the gun. Ultimately, it is Janie who kills Tea Cake is self defense, and as she comes to comfort him, he bites her arm (183-184.)

After a very shirt trial (decided by a white male jury) Janie is released on the grounds of self-defense. However, it is not until Tea Cakes funeral, where Janie makes sure he buried with a new guitar in a place in Palm Beach where floods will not disturb his body, that the members of the community forgive her (188-190.) Thus, Janie’s story comes full circle, as the flash back ends and her Pheoby assures her she will not let the townspeople say bad things about her. However, the towns opinion now matters little to Janie, as she come home now becomes she finally feels she has lived her life, and is not alone even though Tea Cake is gone, because she will always have her memories (190-193.)
Although it was a sad ending and unexpected ending, I was happy for Janie. I think Hurston intended us to feel as if Janie now had all the answers, and was at peace with herself, summed up best when she tells Pheoby;
“It’s an unknown fact, Pheoby, you got tuh go there tuh know there. Yo’ papa and yo’ mama and nobody else can’t tell yuh and show yuh. Two things everybody’s got to do fuh theyselves. They got tuh go to tuh God and they got tuh find out about livin’fuh theyselves.
I also get the impression that she is over the resentment she felt for her grandmother. Most importantly, the reference to the horizon re appears and sums up the way Janie feels about the life she has lead, giving us the readers a feeling of the book truly coming full circle and (sort of )clarifying the reason the novel began the way it did (193.)