Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Laura Ingalls Wilder, The Little House series, and the race to adulthood


Title:  The Little House series
Author:  Laura Ingalls Wilder
Published:  1932 - 1971
Challenges:  Summer reread

"Every Christmas is better than the Christmas before," Laura thought.  I guess it must be because I'm growing up."
This summer I reread The Little House series, and I discovered a great lesson: that maturity and adulthood are regarded as urgent and crucial - worn like a crown of righteousness.  

The Bible conveys a similar message, that we should desire to grow up, mature, and become adults.  Adulthood brings wisdom and understanding, favor with God, and growth in salvation.  Babies require only the milk of the Word, but adults can handle the solid food of Scripture.  The Bible encourages man to put away childish things - the sooner the better. 

Maturity encourages obedience (or obedience encourages maturity), and you cannot have one without the other.  Self-control is a sign of maturity, and it is one of the more difficult commandments to obey - controlling our true inner emotions and often selfish desires, while displaying immediate obedience, when we would rather do as we please.  

Following are just a few passages from The Little House books that represent these attributes in the race to adulthood. 


Little House in the Big Woods



The first book of the Little House series demonstrates how obedience should be executed - instantly and without question - because obedience can be the difference between life and death.

One evening, five-year old Laura went out with Ma to milk Sukey, the cow, while Pa was away for the night.  In the darkness, they saw the large shape of Sukey standing within the barnyard gate; and Ma reached in to slap Sukey's shoulder, in order to move her into the barn. Ma realized it was not Sukey she slapped, but a bear, and she immediately commanded Laura to walk back to the house.  Without question, Laura turned around and began to walk back, until Ma caught her up and ran with her to the house.

When they were safely inside, Laura asked Ma if it was a bear, and if it could hurt them? Ma assured her that they were safe in the house and praised Laura because she was a good girl, to do exactly as Ma told her and to do it quickly, without asking why.  


Farmer Boy



Almanzo and his father were out collecting ice on the river when a curious Almanzo fell into the icy water. Check out this nine-year old's conscience:
Father stood over him, big and terrible.  
"You ought to have the worst whipping of your life," Father said.
"Yes, Father," Almanzo whispered.  He knew it.  He knew he should have been more than careful.  A boy of nine-years old is too big to do foolish things because he doesn't stop to think.  Almanzo knew that, and felt ashamed.  He shrank up small inside his clothes and his legs shivered, afraid of the whipping. Father's whippings hurt.  But he knew he deserved to be whipped.  The whip was on the bobsled.
"I won't thrash you this time," Father decided.  "But see to it you stay away from that edge."
Towards the end of Farmer Boy, Almanzo had pride in his heart, as he recognized his abilities to help with the farm work.
He helped to feed the patient cows, and the horses eagerly whinnying over the bars of their stalls, and the hungrily bleating sheep, and the grunting pigs.   
And he felt like saying to them all, "You can depend on me.  I'm big enough to take care of you all."
Little House on the Prairie


Pa is gone when two Indians entered the little log cabin, and Laura and Mary argued about freeing Jack, their bulldog, from his chain.  Laura wanted to let him loose, to protect Ma, but Mary reminded her of Pa's stern orders never to let him go. 

When Pa returned, they told him the truth, and Pa rebuked them with words of wisdom.
"Did you girls even think of turning Jack loose?"  he asked in a dreadful voice.
Laura's head bowed down and she whispered, "Yes, Pa."
"After I told you not to?" Pa said, in a more dreadful tone.
Laura couldn't speak, but Mary chocked, "Yes, Pa."
"After this," he said, in a terrible voice, "you girls remember always to do as you're told.  Don't even think of disobeying me."
"Do as you're told," said Pa, "and no harm will come to you." 
On the Banks of Plum Creek


Here was another example of Laura obeying her conscience to confess her disobedience, which is extremely difficult for anyone to do, especially a child.
Everything was beautiful and good, except Laura. She had broken her promise to Pa.  Breaking a promise was as bad as telling a lie.  Laura wished she had not done it.  But she had done it, and if Pa knew, he would punish her.  
Pa went on playing softly in the starlight.  His fiddle sang to her sweetly and happily.  He thought she was a good little girl. At last Laura could bear it no longer. 
And this is where she tells him how she went to the swimming hole when she was commanded never to go without him.

I could not resist sharing a story about Nellie Oleson.  After school began on Plum Creek, Mary and Laura met Nellie for the first time.  Out of earshot, Mary said,
"My goodness!  I couldn't be as mean as that Nellie Oleson."
Laura thought: "I could.  I could be meaner to her than she is to us, if Ma and Pa would let me."  (And she recognized her accountability for bad behavior, although later she did seek revenge on Nellie.) 
By the Shores of Silver Lake


Times have changed by the opening of this next book, By the Shores of Silver Lake.  Mary lost her sight after a bout with scarlet fever, Pa has gone west to begin a new job and stake out a new place for them to live, and Jack, Laura's trusted dog, who "took care of her," has died.  
Laura knew then that she was not a little girl any more.  Now she was alone; she must take care of herself.  When you must do that, then you do it and you are grown up.    
Caroline wanted one of her girls to be a teacher, and that dream fell to Mary.  However, after Mary's illness, it was apparent that Laura would have to be the teacher. Laura never wanted to be a teacher.  Notice her private, internal negotiations as she struggled to put down her disdain for teaching in order to do what she knew was necessary and right.  
Laura's heart jerked, and then she seemed to feel it falling, far, far down.  She did not say anything.  She knew that Pa and Ma, and Mary too, had thought that Mary would be a teacher.  Now Mary couldn't teach, and - "Oh, I won't! I won't!" Laura thought.  "I don't want to!  I can't!"  Then she said to herself, "You must."
I love all of Laura's little bits of honest curiosity, like when Pa warned Laura and Carrie never to go near the grade where the men were working, using rough language.
"Yes, Pa." Laura promised, and Carrie almost whispered, "Yes, Pa."  Carrie's eyes were large and frightened.  She did not want to hear rough language, whatever rough language might be.  Laura would have liked to hear some, just once, but of course she must obey Pa.
The Long Winter


Older sister Mary often challenged Laura's conscience for the better.  During The Long Winter, they sat in the dim light doing needlework.  
"I do believe I have nearly enough done," [Mary] said.  "I'll be ready for you to sew the rug tomorrow, Laura."
 "I wanted to finish this lace first," Laura objected.  "And these storms keep making it so dark I can hardly see to count the stitches."  
"The dark doesn't bother me," Mary answered cheerfully.  "I can see with my fingers."
Laura was ashamed of being impatient.  "I'll sew your rug whenever you're ready," she said willingly.
Later, during their dismal Christmas, Ma suggested they save a special publication to read aloud on that day.
After a moment Mary said, "I think it is a good idea.  It will help us to learn self-denial."
"I don't want to," Laura said.
"Nobody does," said Mary.  "But it's good for us."
Sometimes Laura did not even want to be good.  But after another silent moment she said, "Well, if you and Mary want to, I will.  It will give us something to look forward to for Christmas." 
After some time of being buried in the house under blizzards, Laura became anxious and complained aloud about eating plain brown bread for every meal.  Ma scolded her,
"Don't complain, Laura!"  Ma told her quickly.  "Never complain of what you have. Always remember you are fortunate to have it."
Laura had not meant to complain but she did not know how to explain what she had meant.  She answered meekly, "Yes, Ma."  Then, startled, she looked at the wheat sack in the corner  There was so little wheat left in it that it lay folded like an empty sack.
"Ma!" she exclaimed, "Did you mean..."  Pa had always said that she must never be afraid.  She must never be afraid of anything.
Charles and Caroline were always wonderful examples of restraint and trust and obedience, all characteristics of maturity.


Little Town on the Prairie



How often I have complained about doing something I do not like or believe I cannot do well, and how quietly Caroline kept this to herself, until Laura noticed it later in her life. This is a testament to Caroline's character.
Laura had never before known that Ma hated sewing. Her gentle face did not show it now, and her voice was near exasperated.  But her patience was so tight around her mouth that Laura knew she hated sewing as much as Laura did.
I hate sewing, too; I suppose I am not any good at keeping it private. (Something to work on, maybe.)



These Happy Golden Years



This is one of my favorite (well, they are all my favorite) experiences of The Little House books because we truly see Laura blossom into the beautiful, brave, honest, and honorable young woman that her parents have been training her up to be. 

Maybe it is me, but I found Laura's time at the Brewster school to be the most horrific experience. Laura had to spend three weeks teaching a small school too far from DeSmet for her to stay at home.  She had to board at the Brewster's claim during the week.  Meanwhile, Mr. and Mrs. Brewster's home was a miserable and dangerous environment.  After the knife incident (Mrs. Brewster threatened Mr. Brewster in the middle of the night), sleep was a definite complication.  And yet, Laura never complained to her parents about the miserable horrors of staying there.  She only shared her concerns later about her teaching abilities.  Not only would my parents have heard all about it, but I would have been out of there by the end of week one.  And that would be because there were no cell phones and I'd have to wait for the weekend, when Manny picked me up.


The First Four Years



And finally, this last story tells of Laura's and Manny's first four years together.  For three years she consented to trying farming with Manny, and if it failed they would try something new.  Well, as with farming, they had success and trials, all the same.  At the end of four years, she thought rather maturely,

It would be a fight to win out in this business of farming, but strangely she felt her spirit rising for the struggle.

Together, she and Manny proved to be a courageous, honorable, responsible, and hard working couple.  These are the things that mature adults are made of.  

This post has been difficult to conquer because there is so much I want to draw from this series, but I had to be selective.  And then I didn't take notes on maturity, but the topic only came to me after I completed the series.  I remember numerous other examples of maturity, but I could not spend any more time trying to search for them. 

Then, while I was putting this post together, I wondered if anyone had written anything on The Little House series pertaining to the topic of maturity and adulthood, and I found something from this site: The Imaginative Conservative: The Unfairness of Fair Hair: Duty and Maturity in Little House in the Big Woods.  It's super short, if you are interested in a little different perspective.  

Maybe someday I'll do a different post on these books and focus on a different topic.  There are so many areas to explore: nature, liberty, independence, women's issues, farming, humor.  Believe me!  These books were not only written for young people.  

If you've read the series, even long ago, what is one theme or topic you take away from these stories?

Thursday, August 20, 2015

The Kill by Émile Zola


Title:  The Kill
Author:  Émile Zola
Published:  1872
Challenges:  The Classics Club; Literary Movement Reading Challenge (Naturalism)

Émile Zola is an artist: the pen is his paintbrush, and the pages are his canvas.  He paints in precise detail his setting, and decorates his characters in the fashions and styles of the day. Because of these ideals, I assumed that a book like The Kill would be considered written in the style of the realism movement; however, I have since learned that naturalists believed that realists failed to portray life as ugly or difficult - or we could add that they left out some truth about life.  If you have ever read Zola, you would agree that he knows how to present all of life: the good, the bad, and the ugly.

The Kill is the second volume in the Les Rougon-Macquart series.  The setting is the yet-to-be-born new city of Paris, as it is being thought out.  One of the main characters, Saccard (Aristide) Rougon, makes his mark and becomes a successful speculator, in more than just real estate.  He loves wealth; money is all he cares about.  And he is not alone.  It permeates the very culture of people he surrounds himself with.  


Sweet Doing Nothing - Auguste Toulmouche
French artist praised by Zola

When Saccard's first wife died, he made a business deal with a wealthy family to marry a young woman, Renée (in order to save her reputation because she was pregnant with another man's child). Saccard greedily inherited her money.  Meanwhile, Renée became personally and emotionally close with Maxime, Saccard's son from his first marriage, and they recklessly developed a semi-incestuous affair.  

I will stop there.  The Kill started off somewhat slow for me, but half way through, Zola made up for it.  As I said, Zola knows how to present all of life, including those behaviors that are difficult and uncomfortable.  There was an abundance of wicked greed and selfish gain, immoral vanity, debauchery and deception, gluttony and drunkenness, and uncontrollable appetites for pleasure and sin.  What a mess it all was!  

Vanity - Auguste Toulmouche

On a personal level, I felt hints of Madame Bovary peeking through.  Bovary was published in 1856, almost 20 years before The Kill.  Renée was this young woman in an uncompromising predicament. She was somewhat indifferent and bored with life, and she became attached to Maxime - not for any good reason that he provided because he was an irresponsible, thoughtless, egocentric young man. However, the reader can see how Renée's lifestyle and obsession with Maxime were spinning out of control, and she was the one who was going to be ruined in the end.  Meanwhile Maxime and his father, Saccard, walked away uninjured.  Maxime was a chip off the old block.

I pitied Renée, especially because it was obviously commonplace that she was being swindled and misused by Saccard.  For example, he devised a plan to sleep with his wife again, and he considerd, 
to capture Renée by the same trick that he would have played on a prostitute.  She was beset by an increasing need of money, and was too proud to ask her husband for help except as a last resort.  Saccard resolved to take advantage of her first request for money to win her favors, and to resume their long-served relations in the delight brought about by the payment of a large debt.
Auguste Toulmouche

Like Madame Bovary, Renée created her own mess and must take responsibility.  Too bad she did not receive sooner the advice of her only friend, Céleste, 
I would never have behaved as you did, Madame.  I often said to myself, when I found you with Monsieur Maxime: 'How is it possible to be so foolish about men!' It always ends badly.  I've always mistrusted them.
But it was too late for Renée.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Behold the Man, Friedrich Nietzsche, Of Himself and For Himself


Title:  Ecce Homo
Author:  Friedrich Nietzsche
Published:  1908 (written 1888)
Challenges:  The Well-Educated Mind (biographies) 

When I was in my early 20's, I wanted to be an intellectual.  (Gratefully, I outlived that phase.)  During a visit to my local library, I checked out a book by Nietzsche - regardless of which one as I did not know any better - because my favorite, favorite, FAVORITE philosopher, Jim Morrison, read and praised this German philosopher whose name I could not pronounce. The only prob was that reading Nietzsche was like reading Egyptian hieroglyphs, and within a few pages, I returned the book.  I was not ready for Neet-shee, or whatever his name was.  


Jim Morrison (The Doors): singer, poet, philosopher
(Doesn't this sound just like Nietzsche?)

Fast forward twenty years.  Nietzsche and I meet again.

Ecce Homo means "behold the man" in Latin.  According to Scripture, the governor Pontius Pilate spoke these words when he presented a battered Jesus to an angry mob, right before His crucifixion.  If I know anything about Nietzsche from his work in Ecce Homo, I think he was referring to himself when he chose the title for his book.  Maybe he felt like he often stood damaged and alone before a vicious audience, in which no one fully understood him. If that were the issue at hand, I could fully sympathize; however, I think Nietzsche's problems were far deeper than misunderstanding. Frankly, he was blatantly arrogant and woefully self-righteous.  I think he really thought he was his own god, and far more important than Christ.  

Source

I am not doing a typical review of this book. Instead, so you may get an idea of what I went through to read it, I recorded a sample of my scribbles from the margins in my book, broken up into the sections and chapters, which Nietzsche has so aptly named for himself.  Some are paraphrases of his points, others are his direct quotes or pieces of his quotes, but mostly they are my live responses to his writing.  If anything is in parentheses, it is also my reaction.

Introduction

1. Nietzsche hates nationalism.
2. Religion equals weakness
3. Thinks Christianity would seek revenge on its enemies, if only they had that kind of power
4. I want to throw up.

Preface

5. He was a disciple of the philosopher Dionysus. (Well, therein lies part of your issue.)

Why I Am So Wise

6. He suffered from gastric issues.  (Oh, Rousseau had something similar.)
7. Rudeness is a virtue.  (Speak for yourself.)
8. Zarathustra (I did research the roots of this, but I put my book away and I am too lazy to go get it again; you can look it up online.) turns traditional morality on its head.

Why I Am So Clever

9. God is too touchy-feely; he (Nietzsche) is a thinker.  
10. Hates idealism; so he's more into realism.
11. He is so arrogant!
12. Go ahead and mock!
13. Hates Germany; worships Wagner (the composer)
13. What is his issue?
14. "No one can point to any moment of my life in which I have assumed either an arrogant or pathetic attitude." (Seriously?)
15. Throw up!
16. No one listens to him.  (I wonder why.)

Why I Write Such Excellent Books 

17. If you don't experience what he is talking about, you cannot understand what he is talking about.  (You're right.  I have no idea what you are talking about.)
18. Christianity is totally backwards.  
19. What is he talking about?
20. Ok, so he compares Christianity to Nihilism.
21. falling asleep...
22. His writing of all these books was merely therapeutic for himself, rather than to share ideas with others.  (That's my opinion.)
23. What Nietzsche thinks of morality: circle with a line through it.
24. Dork
25. His purpose in life: to prepare humanity to come to its senses.
26. Argument: "to believe the Bible gives us assurance of Providence that wisely rules the fate of man - when translated into reality means man is in the worst possible hands: that he has been governed by physiologically botched, men of cunning and burning revengefulness, and so-called saints - slanderers of the world and traducers of humanity."  (I think he means of religious leaders, at the end.) 
27. "He who disagrees with me on this point, I regard as infected." (I'm infected)
28. He wants to remove the "sick parts" of man.  (Religion doesn't heal man.)
29. "Yea" saying = is that his attempt at positive thinking?
30. Zarathustra: is this his imaginary friend or alter ego?
31. Is he comparing himself to Dante and Shakespeare? 
32. He does rightly hate anti-Semitism.
33. Luther was a cursed monk.  (Was not!)

Why I am a Fatality

34. "I am the mouthpiece of truth." (Not even)
35. "I was the first to discover truth." (Wow!)
36. "My destiny ordained that I should be the first decent human being." (Wow, again!)
37. "Mankind can begin to have fresh hopes, only now that I have lived." (He has made himself a little god.)
38. He steals ideas and concepts from Scripture.
39. I don't understand all of his contradictions.
40. Gives himself big shoes to fill
41. "Christian morality is the most malignant form of all falsehood: that which has corrupted mankind."  (But he doesn't understand that mankind was already corrupt because of sin.)
42. I think his real issue with religious power is the Catholic Church.
43. "The concept of 'God' was invented as the opposite of the concept life - everything detrimental, poisonous, and slanderous, and all deadly hostility to life, was bound together in one horrible unit in Him." (Basically, he hates God.)
44. "The concept 'sin'...was invented in order to confuse and muddle our instincts, and to tender the mistrust of them man's second nature!" (Go ahead, justify your disobedience.)
45. "Have you understood me?" (Sure, whatever.)

~

I should not mock him, because all humanity is in the same condition; the only exception is that most of us are not that pompous about our own ideas.  His diagnosis is simply that he hated God. He experienced rebelliousness and did not want to live by God's standards. None of us do, and we are all naturally at enmity with God.  But some, like Nietzsche, take up arms and do battle against God.  Nietzsche challenged God, and made his own way, of himself and for himself.  He turned away from God and and put himself in God's place.  And as far as Nietzsche's madness, I have not done much more reading on it than what was in the introduction, but that is between him and God.  Nietzsche was certainly aware of it because he embraced it; but I do not know his state of mind when he died, and if he finally came to his senses about God before it was too late.  

Now, for a more mature and thorough raking of Nietzsche's Ecce Homo, please visit Cleo's post, if you have not already.  It is truly enlightening.  

Nietzsche, died 1900

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

The Grapes of Wrath, or A Big, Fat Trainwreck Waiting to Happen, by John Steinbeck


Title:  The Grapes of Wrath
Author:  John Steinbeck
Published:  1939
Challenges:  Back to the Classics (20th century classic); The Classics Club; Manly Reading List, and my little book club 

Fine!  Ostracize me.  I am not getting on the The Grapes of Wrath-is-the-most-awesome-American-story-ever bandwagon.  In my literary experience, this was a train wreck waiting to happen.  Naturally, if you take ignorant, uneducated, unskilled, unwise, superstitious people, and surround them with a world lacking of justice, law, and humanity, BAM! You will get instant victims. Add John Steinbeck's propaganda and I was left psychologically wrenched, mentally abused, emotionally aggravated, and plainly dumbfounded.  Throughout much of the story, I ignored and suppressed my disgust so I could finish the book; but my conscience told me it was not right.  When I got to the wretched, abrupt ending, I thought I could scream; but I spared myself the energy.

So let me just get this out of the way: The Grapes of Wrath is praised for its natural beauty - you know - Steinbeck's writing ability and style.  OK, I will give it that.  However, if I need beautiful writing about the land, I will read Willa Cather.  Another praise is that Steinbeck illustrates themes that are true, good, and right.  Ill-treatment begets ill-treatment and compassion begets compassion.  It's like the pay-it-forward game.  He also (overly) demonstrates that those in power can be inhumane, selfish and greedy.  Check.  But then he also expresses how desperate people are still capable of feeling and responding with sympathy and mercy toward others also in need.  True.  

Farming is a risky life.

I know that farm work is exceptionally insecure and risky work because so many particulars are running against you and are out of your ability to change.  Farmers had zero protections against these losses.  In addition, the 1930's in America were hard and desperate for everyone, all over the country.   But I think Steinbeck exaggerated his hopeless worldview for his own agenda, and I guess that is what you can do when you have the power of the pen.   

I personally feel terrible because I somewhat suggested this book for my little book club, and we discussed the possibility of curse words.  Some considered that it probably would not have bad language given that it was written in the 30's; but I was suspicious: "It's Steinbeck."  Sure enough, many characters in this story blasphemed God's name, especially the ex-preacher, of course. Everyone: man, woman, youth, unemployed, employed, poor, those better off. It did not matter. Apparently, no one in Steinbeck's world has any reverence for God.  And many characters have a foul mouth - again - especially the ex-preacher.  

Approaching dust storm in Texas, 1935

Steinbeck has awful theology.  He likes to use a lot of references and connections to Bible stories and characters; in fact, he likes to turn his characters into living Bible personalities. But please do not think he is a Christian writer or that The Grapes of Wrath has good Christian undertones (as I read in some opinions) because it does not.  Steinbeck is playing with these ideas because it is what he knows - his mother read them to him a lot - but he does not know Truth.  And if anything, his real issue is with religion, which is separate from faith, of which none of his characters have.

For example, the ex-preacher in the story is a wicked man, and he was never saved.  He does not know anything about God or saving grace, and the reader cannot impart wisdom from him, as I think Steinbeck wanted to portray.  It is a pet peeve of mine when authors have their characters meddle with Scripture and Christian Truth.  But it is even worse for me when I read Christian opinions rejoice over literature, as if the author has a Christian message.  Not here.

Migrant workers from Oklahoma

Another thing, and this is for Steinbeck: he explained how the wicked Americans stole Mexican territory, like the property owners in California who were protecting their land from the desperate migrant workers, as if this was history repeating itself.  Let me just help with a little filler: the Mexican government was unable and unwilling (because of the distance) to supply aid to settlers whom they permitted to live within their territory from frequent peaceful Indian raids, and they decided to put it up for sale.  They refused to sell it to the American government because slavery was still practiced in the U.S., and Mexico did not want to sell the territory to a nation that would spread slavery.  So they considered selling to France, or worse, England.  (No offense to the English, but America had just won the War of 1812 and did not feel like sharing the continent with English neighbors.  I totally understand.)  We could argue all day long that America had evil plans to expand the nation's borders, and that they used the tension following the Alamo loss to start the war; but whatever the case, it happened.  America won (and not without sacrifice.  The Mexicans were true warriors!).  And then after America stole the land, they paid the Mexican government a measly $15 million (which is like $380 million today). We seem to leave this part of history out of history when we recall the territory issue with Mexico, and Steinbeck perpetuates it here.

I would like to share this, too, what annoyed me greatly: the Joads.  They are the main family in the story, and they give a poor name to American farmers.  No wonder farmers hated this story.  Readers of The Grapes of Wrath can see their growing demise, but not the Joads. They were painfully pathetic, at times, except Tom, in whom I invested great hope. And, yet, I don't even know what happened to him because Steinbeck had to like end the story or something.  

Migrant workers from Florida

Did you know that Hitler, like all sucky dictators who worship American cinema, praised the film version of The Grapes of Wrath because he said (I will paraphrase) that if all Americans are like the Joads, then the American military is done?  He even used the film as propaganda against the Americans.  Ha!  Thanks, Steinbeck.  

In addition, Communists, too, loved The Grapes of Wrath for their own propaganda against capitalism.  Maybe Steinbeck did not mean it that way, but it sure comes across. Community is good, but not the way Communists sell it.  And capitalism is best when good people are free to do what they know is right.  I am sorry that some people are corrupt, but capitalism can fix that if people refuse to work for that employer or company, and consumers reject their goods or services.  That is how it is supposed to work.  

Migrant worker camp
And I certainly do not regard the union aspect of the story because I believe (as I have witnessed) unions give the people justification to turn ugly, wicked, and violent. Unions are bullies, too, and do not always have the little guy in its best interest.  I have seen unions destroy jobs and people's lives. 

And finally, as is also mentioned within the story, I do not think that all revolution is right. One should ask if revolution brings about the best or right outcome just because change may occur.  If it happens by force or threat, it cannot be right.  

There you have it.  I would never read through this again.  I know Steinbeck is a formidable author and writer and not to be overlooked.  I would even suggest everyone read The Grapes of Wrath at least once, as chances are, you will love it.  But I am in the minority. Lately, I am in a really bad mood, and I think it is obvious that my bad attitude has deeply influenced my heart and voice.  Hoping I can shake this soon because I now have to review Neitzche.     

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Lord of the Flies by William Golding


Title:  The Lord of the Flies
Author:  William Golding
Published:  1954
Challenges:  Back to the Classics (Satire); The Classics Club; Manly Reading List

This is one book that I did not look forward to ever reading; I do not recall what possessed me to add it to my reading challenges.  I had an idea what the plot was and declared that I had no interest in it.  Then it was time for me to read it, and I am so grateful I did.

A group of British school boys survive a plane crash on a desolate island, as they are being transported somewhere safer than war-torn England.  They are between the ages of 6 and 12.  As you would imagine, these boys must come together and exist within this wild environment, without adult supervision or instruction.

There are four major characters:  The one who is elected to become the main leader is attractive and exhibits moral law and order - ideas that humans are drawn to.  Another boy agrees to be leader of the hunters, as he exhibits action and power, physical traits that also attract humans. There is another boy who is intelligent and wise, and has all the answers, but he is physically unpleasant and socially an outcast.  And finally, there is one other boy who is naturally gentle, peaceful, and compassionate, and connected to the natural environment of the island.  No one truly understands him, and he is somewhat of a loner.  

Moral Law and Order vs. Evil Power

Other characters include a set of twins who are inseparable and easily exploited.  They are not unique individuals.  Another boy, part of the group of hunters, is vicious and violent.  And there is a group of younger boys, age six, who are dependent and need to be looked after and taken care of.  They are completely helpless on their own.

There is major conflict between the leaders.   Moral Law and Order has one objective - to keep a fire smoldering in order to be rescued; but Power has its objective - to kill and eat and subdue the island (and everyone on it).  It is obvious to the reader that without law and order there is chaos, destruction, and eventually unnecessary death.  And this is what we are faced with: evil Power overrides Law and Order. Now I understand why Oliver DeMille called Lord of the Flies a broken story - when evil is portrayed as bad, but evil still wins.  

Soon an imaginary Fear is introduced into the story that begins with the younger boys. Internally, they suppose there is a beast living on the island.  The older boys believe it, too, especially after they discover a dead paratrooper hanging from some trees high in the mountains.  Only the Peaceful character encounters the truth and wants to tell the rest that the beast is not real; but he never gets to tell them.  However, that Fear continues to be used throughout the story to encourage the other boys to join evil Power, to hunt and kill.

Source: Peaceful face-to-face with the Lord of the Flies

Later, after a hunt, the leader of the hunters raises the severed head of the sow on a stick, and it becomes the Lord of the Flies.  It is a shrine to the imagined beast on the island. Since a beast did not really exist on the island, the Lord of the Flies represents the natural beast within, which is evil and wicked.

Each major character represents a true picture of human nature.  Man desires moral law and order, particularly because he knows man's heart is broken and bent on wickedness. Naturally, man is corrupt and corruptible.  Law and order protects man from his wickedness or the wickedness of others; for if man were naturally good and right, he would not need law or order.  

Man is also attracted to power, and some would say violence.  It does not mean we all are.  The character connected to peace in The Lord of the Flies was naturally good and harmless.  He was not attracted to the violence and rage.  He was not connected to an aggressive nature.  But the power exhibited by the leader of the hunters was magnetic to the others and brought about their own wickedness.  

SPOILER ALERT

By the end of the story, Power destroyed Peacefulness, Wisdom, and was seeking out Law and Order, to end it once and for all.  Just then, a military officer appeared on the island to rescue the boys (the military saw the smoke from the fire, which was only set in wickedness to "smoke out" the main leader from hiding).  The irony is that the adult rescues the boys from their violent games; while the adults are at war, too, with each other.  Who will rescue the adults from their violent war games? 

END SPOILER

The reason why I liked this story so much is because it is loaded with many truths.  It is also very frightening when I consider how true to life it is.  And sadly, often times evil Powers do win over goodness, mercy, truth, righteousness, and law and order.  Civilization is being destroyed right before our eyes, as man is obeying his own beast.  

You see, the truth of The Lord of the Flies teaches us that there is never really any end to the struggle between moral law and order and violence and evil power, even within ourselves. The question however is: who will we permit to win?  



Saturday, July 18, 2015

Cannot Finish Life on the Mississippi by Mark Twain


Title:  Life on the Mississippi
Author:  Mark Twain
Published:  1883
Challenges:  Back to the Classics (non-fiction); Literary Movement (realism); The Classics Club

Everything was in my favor: Mark Twain, non-fiction, realism, a little bit of history, a memorable journey down or up the famous Mississippi.  All of these factors whet my appetite, and I was going dive into this book and love, love, love it.  

Unfortunately, before the first chapter was over, I wanted to jump overboard and get caught up in one of those steamboat paddle wheels and drown myself.  Ugh!  Life on the Mississippi was so boring; I could not appreciate it for one more sentence.  

I forced myself to read more than half the book, which is a pathetic way to waste precious reading time.  I forced myself - not because it was difficult material that must be ingested because of its significance to learning and life - but because I wanted to finish the challenge, which is also the wrong reason to read.  It was supposed to be for pure enjoyment and pleasure, but it was more like torture.  

So what is it all about?  It is an assortment of Twain's life stories connected to his time on the Mississippi as a steamboat pilot.  Apparently, he traveled all over the United States and Europe, but he always came back to the Mississippi River; all of those River stories are recollected in Life on the Mississippi.  If you have read Huckleberry Finn, which he mentions in this account, then you will understand where he gets his knowledge of the great river.  I almost imagine that he wrote this more for himself than anyone else's potential interest.

Unfortunately, with the exception of his occasional sarcasm and humor, I could not get into his long personal tales of people and places and events that he experienced during his life on the river.  It was just terribly boring to me.  When I told a friend what I was reading, she said, "Oh no!  You picked the worst one to read.  You have got to try Roughing It or Innocents Abroad."  However, I declare that it is too late for me, and I am going to have to regretfully forfeit my challenges this month.   I cannot make it.  At some point I have to be ok with this. So, I am.  Life goes on.  I can sleep tonight with a good conscience. And no matter what, I harbor no disagreeable feelings towards Mark Twain.  This was just not for me.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Up From Slavery by Booker T. Washington


Title: Up From Slavery
Author:  Booker T. Washington
Published:  1901
Challenges:  The Well-Educated Mind (biographies)

This is my third slave narrative and my fourth book about American slavery, this year. Slavery is never an easy topic to read about; however, Up From Slavery is actually extremely encouraging and inspirational.  

The short version of Booker T. Washington's life is that he was born into slavery and was under age ten when slavery ended.  After the Civil War, he moved with his mother and brother to the North. As a young boy, Booker worked to earn money for the family, but what he desired most was an education.  Even in utter poverty and unimaginable hardships, he found a way to go to school and gain knowledge. 


At school, Washington proved himself a hard worker and dedicated student that he was recommended to open a new school in Alabama, which would become the Tuskegee Institute.  He remained the leader and representative of Tuskegee until his death in 1915.  

Tuskegee would become his life work.  He literally built and expanded the school with his bare hands, along with students. He made it his responsibility to secure donations or loans from wealthy individuals and politicians to purchase the land, buy supplies, and furnish the school. The students provided all of the labor because he wanted to teach that there is dignity in merit, industry, and labor.

At the time, ex-slaves believed education (book learning) was the way to avoid hard labor, but Washington wanted them to learn the value of building, creating, and making something worthy and necessary with their own hands, something they could use personally or to sell because there was a demand.  In turn, students learned a skill, which they were good at and could earn an income.  He taught them how community works.

Some controversial ideas from Washington involved his attitude about the white race.  He forgave slaveholders and never harbored negative feelings towards them or whites.  Of course, he was only eight when he gained his freedom, and he hardly had a memory of slavery. While he sought to lift up the black race, he also wanted to see the same done for the white race because he knew that whites suffered, too, because of slavery.  For example, after the War, southern whites scarcely knew what to do with themselves because they were accustomed to servants doing everything for them.  Surely they needed assistance in learning and living, just as the black race.  He did not want to see whites being left out of any programs or projects that were meant to help only the blacks.  Washington said,
if Congress wanted to do something which would assist in ridding the South of the race question and making friends between the two races, it should, in every proper way, encourage the material and intellectual growth of both races.  
Washington was also worried that the Republicans were pushing too quickly on the black community to get involved in politics when he knew they were not prepared to be in office. He believed the Republicans were using the blacks to gain power in the South, which is very probable, and Washington was more concerned with the moral and intellectual stability of the black race, first.  

He also said that the generation he was teaching now would need to understand that they were laying the foundation for their future children and grandchildren, that they "could grow to higher and more important things in life."  In other words, they were going to have to start at the bottom and work their way up.  They could not expect to begin at the top.

No race can prosper till it learns that there is as much dignity in tilling a field as in writing a poem.  It is at the bottom of life we must begin and not at the top.  Nor should we permit our grievances to overshadow our opportunities.
I understand now why Booker T. Washington was and still is called an "Uncle Tom" by other blacks: because his ideas and policies were and are passive and conservative.  He was eager to see the races equal and did not argue for the "rights" of the black race.  He rather show through hard work, dedication, industry, and education that the black race is worthy of respect and has a place in society.  He wanted to demonstrate that, if given the opportunity, blacks would contribute to their community and prove to be worthy.

He had a positive vision for his people and for the nation and its future.  If this had been the only book I ever read about slavery, I would have thought that the issue of racism was done and over with in America, since Booker T. Washington's time.  He highlighted how eager wealthy, white people were to work with or support him in his endeavors, which is why he believed that people would reward merit and that rich people would always support good work someone else was doing. 

But what happened to Washington's ideals?  What happened to his vision?  What happened to his America?  

This reminds me of a story:  Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast in 2005.  The city of New Orleans, which is already below sea level, was in danger.  The Mayor had issued a mandatory evacuation order, but for whatever reason, many stayed behind.  When the hurricane was over, the levies (which protected the city from the sea) broke, flooding the city.  (No, President Bush did not blow up the levies). 

Many people fled their flooded neighborhoods to get to the Superdome, which had been open to the public, but had remained surprisingly empty during the storm.  And for another unknown reason, the Superdome WAS NOT STOCKED with supplies or resources. THE CITY WAS NOT PREPARED!  People thought they would spend a few hours through the storm and then it would be over.  But that did not happen.  When crowds of helpless, tired, sick, elderly, hungry, frightened, angry people showed up at the Superdome at the same time, it was pure chaos.  This lasted for three days!  

This was frustrating to watch on TV.  When buses arrived at the Superdome, they took 150,000 people and transported them to Houston, Texas, where many of them would start new lives.  Instead, I thought, why not find a way to keep the people in the area? Louisiana could not accommodate her own people?  Why not have them rebuild their city?  After all, the media was talking about how they were all out of work (especially now).  Work?  There would be so much work to be done; someone was going to have to do it.  




And what about all of the people who remained, only to live in FEMA trailers for YEARS and YEARS, waiting for someone else sent by the government to rebuild their home?  Really?  If we learned anything, it is that government fails us on these levels.  How much faster could we get it done ourselves if we could be proactive and involved, instead of waiting for [government] to do it for us?

If Booker T. Washington were alive today, he would have advocated that all of the capable people rebuild their homes, their churches, their neighborhoods, and their community.  He would have rolled up his sleeves to work, too, instead of waiting for government.  Imagine the lessons that would have been learned.  Imagine the skills gained. Imagine the sense of accomplishment.  Imagine the new lives built up after such suffering.  


President Theodore Roosevelt with Washington, 1901
Booker T. Washington was an insightful, optimistic, brilliant leader.  America could sure use more leaders like him.  

UPDATE: Because Booker T. Washington's message is still alive, thanks to people like this man who gets it: