Luận văn Discuss some of the most prominent aspects of the culture and society of the mainstream American in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries

From all the literary works I have had chances to read, I have the same feelings for the American women, who share many things in common as very modern, practical, strong-headed women who have new concepts of love, thirst for love and try their best to achieve true love.

In the short story Watermelon Days selected in The Best American Short Story 2002, Tom McNeal draws a picture of an American woman in the late 1920s. Doreen Sulivan, a beautiful woman from Philadelphia, had an appearance which was a fashion of the day with “a thin, sleeveless dress over a light camisole, her bobbed hair was marceled into deep horizontal waves, she wore a wide ribbon in her felt cloche She also used a scarlet lipstick to form her lips into a fresh cupid bow ” (McNeal, as cited in Kenison and Miller, 2002, p. 211). The way Doreen dressed up and wore make-up represents a revolutionary trend of the rebellious American flappers in the so-called Jazz Age or the Roaring Twenties. Traditionally, women wore long dress, long hair and very light make-up. On the contrary, the rebellious flappers wore dresses which exposed their hands and legs down from the knee. Their long hair was cut short and even bobbed. The year 1926, which the story dates back to was a turning point in American fashion when camisoles, short dresses, bobbed hair under cloche hats and heavy make-up were in their hey-day. What the flappers wanted was to show themselves to be very young, modern, strong and different from traditional American women of the time. Doreen, with her modern appearance raised the curiosity of the people in Yankton, the town which she came to for a job. And also in Yankton, she got married to a radio reporter who proposed to her only five weeks after their first meeting.

 

doc49 trang | Chia sẻ: maiphuongdc | Ngày: 25/10/2013 | Lượt xem: 1639 | Lượt tải: 6download
Bạn đang xem nội dung tài liệu Luận văn Discuss some of the most prominent aspects of the culture and society of the mainstream American in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, để tải tài liệu về máy bạn click vào nút DOWNLOAD ở trên
ights movement in the 1960s that resulted in the 1964 Civil Rights Act which transformed the American society in the late twentieth century and the century to come. Nevertheless, we have not learnt many of the illustrative evidences for racial discrimination itself. In his wonderful short story Big Boy leaves home first published in 1936, Richard N. Wright provides us with a vivid illustration for racial discrimination set in Southern America in the early twentieth century. The story begins with a lively scene of the four black boys Bobo, Lester, Buck and Big Boy, the main character, who are as naughty and lovely as any boys in the world walking “lollingly in bare feet, beating tangled vines and bushes with long sticks” (Schorer, p.885), twitting each other in a swimming hole in the woods after playing truant from school. From the bottom of their heart, they always dreamt of the train that could bring them to the North which was said to have equal rights for the colored folks. “They counted each train passed by and began to sing the song about “a train bound for glory””. While singing the song, they felt a bright future ahead. Wright draws a lively picture with “A black winged butterfly hovered at the water’s edge. A bee droned. From somewhere came the sweet scent of honey suckles. Dimly they could hear sparrows twittering in the woods. They rolled from side to side, letting sunshine dry their skin” (Schorer, p. 893). Unfortunately, the black boys’ happy time did not last long until they were found naked by a white woman. In a normal situation, the woman is supposed to be shy and run away. But the woman in Wright’s story screamed panickly as if she was seeing four monsters. “You go away! You go away! I tell you go away!” (Schorer, p. 894), she shouted even when Big Boy said very politely: “Lady, we wanna git our closes.” (Schorer, p. 894) The climax of the whole story arises when the woman’s fiancÐ appeared and immediately shot the four boys. Lester and Buck died. Bobo was extremely terrified but Big Boy got the riffle and shot him to death. What the woman and her fiancÐ did to the four innocent boys represents what the white did to the colored. The black were treated like animals. They would be killed at any time, for any reasons. The more extreme segregation is depicted in the barbarous punishment the white gave to Bobo, one of the escaped. As Big Boy could see while he was running away from his hometown, the white men burnt Bobo and “A black body flashed in the light. Bobo was struggling, twisting, they were binding his arms and ligs.” Bobo’s arms and ligs were bound symbolizes the fate of the black was bound. No matter they struggled, they would be killed. The injustice and barbarian of the society of the time is shown in the death of the three black innocent boys and the exhausting flee of Big Boy paid for the nonsensical fear of a white woman. The severe segregation is also revealed in the memoir Prime Time by Henry Louis Gates Jr. when he recalled the murder of the fourteen-year-old Emmette Till in August 1955 in Mississippi after his friends dared him to ask out a white woman. “He whistled at some white girl…that’s all he did. He was beat so bad that they didn’t want to open the casket.” (Gates, as cited in Chin. et al, 2002, p. 1092). For the American and the world, the murder of Emmett Till was an international issue. It is well-known that three days after Emmett Till whistled at Carolyn Bryant, a store clerk, he was weighted down by a seventy-five pound cotton gin fan tied around his neck with barbed wire by Carolyn’s husband and her half-brother. They mutilated his face so terribly that his uncle Wright could only identify the body basing on the ring worn on a finger of the dead body. If it had been a white man to whistle at Carolyn, the situation wouldn’t have been so bad. This degrading discrimination was not the first of its kind but it was an alarming point that put the black people in America on fire for justice and peace. Throughout the memoir, Gates provides us with variety of evidences of the segregation of the time. “For most of my childhood, we couldn’t eat in restaurants or sleep in hotels, we couldn’t use certain bathrooms or try on clothes in stores…Even after basketball games, the colored players had to stand around and drink out of paper cups while the white players and cheerleaders sat down in the red Naugahyde booths and drank out of glasses ” (as cited in Chin et. al, 2002, 1087) Gates gives an example of his family being avoided from sitting down at the Cut-Rate, a restaurant in town, which had a permanent TAKE AWAY ONLY sign for the colored people. Only Gates’s father was not stopped from sitting down. As Gates explained, it was in part because his father had lighter complexion. At this stand we can see that the reason was only the matter of black or white. The lighter one’s complexion was, the more chances for him or her to use public service. Another example of Carl Dadisman, who had vowed not to integrate, was given to support Gates’ irony of discrimination. Carl Dadisman was a proprietor who ran the taxi service, therefore, he tried to behave nicely, even to the colored. However, he did not want the colored to sit in his booths, eat off his plates and silverware or put their “thick greasy lips” over his glasses. Gates’s satire arouse in the way he described the death of Carl. Carl died because of a heart attack in a tiny toilet of his own place of business. “Daddy and some other men tried to lift him up, while he was screaming and gasping and clutching his chest, but he was stuck in that cramped space.” (as cited in Chin et. al, 2002, 1088). Why Carl had such heart attack in such a “relaxing” place is not given but we can understand that he was “attacked” by his own prejudice for his “cramped” mind. Lowell, a black brilliant soccer player came to saw the toilet to help him but it seemed hopeless. Carl cried, moaned and died. Then Gates says that “By then it made little difference to Carl that Lowell was black.” Yet, it is so ironic that not until a “white” dies that his prejudice of black or white might be blurred. Like in Big Boy Leaves Home, the colored people in Gates’s memoir also show their thirst for equality. This thirst is embedded in their excitement to see the shows on television such as “the all-colored world of Amos and Andy” which is full of black lawyers, black doctors and nurses. “We were starved for images of ourselves and searched TV to find them.” (p.1089) But for other fields, the colored people were well-known for their sport ability. This is the reason why the people in Piedmont, where Gates spent his childhood, kept track of every sport programs which the colored played in. “We’d watch the games day and night, and listen on radio to what we couldn’t see.” (p.1089) and “Colored, colored, on Channel Two.” (p.1091)All these thirst and excitement to see their own images and success reveal the desire of the colored people to be recognized in the society. They wanted to have the same stand and to enjoy the same lives as the white. “With a show like Topper, I felt as if I was getting a glimpse, at last, of the life that Mrs. Hudson, and Mrs. Thomas…must be leading in their big mansions… Smoking jackets and cravats, spats and canes, elegant garden parties and martinis… This was a world of so elegantly distant from ours, it was like a voyage to another galaxy.” (p.1090) By then, all the advantages seen on television that the white came in for seemed “just out of reach” of the colored in Piedmont in West Virginia. In the third part of the memoir, Gates gives us lively facts of the Civil Rights movement, of the black children integrated into Little Rock high school in Arkansas, of the soldiers from the National Guard and the state police who surrounded these black children and how the people in Piedmont reacted to the news. Nonetheless, all these facts were seen only on television. The people in Piedmont still had to face with segregations. While in Gates’s nonfiction, we learn about the cheerleaders, in the Civil Rights era, from all-white high school with a big red C for “central” on their chest waved and cheered “Two, four, six, eight – We don’t want to integrate.” (as cited in Chin, 2002, 1094), we know more evidences of this offensive attitude in many other fictional works including Everything That Rises Must Converge by Flannery O’Connor. From the beginning to the end of the story, the writer reveals her light irony when describing Julian’s mother and other passengers and their hostile attitudes toward the Negro people in general and the Negro passengers on the bus. Julian’s mother was so afraid to ride the buses alone at night because the buses at the time had been integrated. Therefore, after looking up and down the bus and acknowledging that there were all white on the bus on the first route, she was so happy. “I see we have the bus to ourselves,” said her. She did not expect any others of colored complexion to join her world. Her negative attitude was shared by other passengers on the bus as the Negroes got on the next route. A woman stood up immediately and found another seat far away when a Negro sat down next to her while the other protruding woman looked at the Negro avidly as if he were a type of monster. These resentful reactions, unlike those in the early twentieth century revealed in Big Boy Leaves Home, were not open and vigorous but in a silent way. Her attitude was typical of many white people toward the colored in the early 1950s and even after the Civil Rights Act took effect in 1964. Throughout American history, the attitudes of the white people toward the colored have changed considerably as it can be inferred from the analysis above. In addition, we can witness these changes in the language used to address the colored people. In the early twentieth century, the colored was called nigger by many white people. This hostile word appeared repeatedly in A Rose for Emily by William Faulkner to speak to and about the colored. By then came the term Negro, Afro-American, the black and nowadays, African American is used to convey a neutral and more respectful attitude. The late twentieth century and the early twenty-first century have witnessed great innovation in the thinking of American society on the whole. While Miss Emily in the early part of the previous century had to hide her beloved dark man Homer Barron in her house until he died to avoid rumors, African American people nowadays are much more confident than ever before in showing themselves in front of the public. The evidences are since the African American Vanessa William was the first to be crowned Miss America in 1984, there have been a large number of colored women to win this honor including the 2008 Miss America Crystle Stewart. Besides, African American have widely appeared on the cover of mass consumer magazines such as Seventeen and Cosmopolitan, made up 20 % of the models to appear on 471 covers of 31 magazines published in 2002 (Garcia. G, 2004, p. 43). Many African American have come into power in the society of which nearly three-forth of the population is white. (Garcia. G, 2004, x) Typical examples are the first black woman Condoleeza Rice who served as the 66th Secretary of States of America and most recently, the current 44th president of the United States Barack Obama who has made a history in American presidency to be the first black to hold the office. African American have gained recognizable stand in American society that they deserve. II.2.3. Modern American women From all the literary works I have had chances to read, I have the same feelings for the American women, who share many things in common as very modern, practical, strong-headed women who have new concepts of love, thirst for love and try their best to achieve true love. 1920s flapper’s cloche hat and bobbed hair In the short story Watermelon Days selected in The Best American Short Story 2002, Tom McNeal draws a picture of an American woman in the late 1920s. Doreen Sulivan, a beautiful woman from Philadelphia, had an appearance which was a fashion of the day with “a thin, sleeveless dress over a light camisole, her bobbed hair was marceled into deep horizontal waves, she wore a wide ribbon in her felt cloche… She also used a scarlet lipstick to form her lips into a fresh cupid bow…” (McNeal, as cited in Kenison and Miller, 2002, p. 211). The way Doreen dressed up and wore make-up represents a revolutionary trend of the rebellious American flappers in the so-called Jazz Age or the Roaring Twenties. Traditionally, women wore long dress, long hair and very light make-up. On the contrary, the rebellious flappers wore dresses which exposed their hands and legs down from the knee. Their long hair was cut short and even bobbed. The year 1926, which the story dates back to was a turning point in American fashion when camisoles, short dresses, bobbed hair under cloche hats and heavy make-up were in their hey-day. What the flappers wanted was to show themselves to be very young, modern, strong and different from traditional American women of the time. Doreen, with her modern appearance raised the curiosity of the people in Yankton, the town which she came to for a job. And also in Yankton, she got married to a radio reporter who proposed to her only five weeks after their first meeting. Actress Alice Joyce, 1926 In the story, we also come across a young American flapper who was very practical minded about love, Aggie, who endlessly looked for men for fun. “In men, Aggie looked for what she called the three m’s – married, money, and merry…” Love is something quite vague to her. Her attitude toward love and marriage was not uncommon among young American women, the flappers in the late 1920s who treated love and sex in very casual ways. A question arises at this point that “Do American women in the late twentieth and the early twenty-first century share the same view of love and marriage with those in the early twentieth century?” The answer is “Yes, they treat love and sex even more casually.” In the short story Nobody’s Business first published in 2001, we vividly witness the casual practices of the young American in general and the young American women in particular of living together before marriage. All of the characters in the story are intellectual: Paul, the protagonist who had got his Ph.D on literature from Havard; Sang, another female main character from Bengali, who graduated from New York university; Heather, a female law school student at Boston college; Farouk, Sang’s boyfriend, who was an Egyptian who taught Middle Eastern history. These characters came from different parts of the world but they had been used to the casual way the young American treat love and sex before marriage. For example, Paul’s girlfriend, who had lived with him in her department for three months and taken him home to her parents’ house for Thanks Giving, said goodbye to him for the sole reason that she did not like the way he kissed her when they were naked in bed. Another illustrations for their living together before marriage are Heather and Sangs, Paul’s housemates. Heather, who had a boyfriend named Kevin, a physicist at MIT, often took him to the house to sleep over night and she was going to celebrate their “one-month anniversary”. Regarding Sang, she was so sad when talking to her male friend Charles about Farouk’s refusal to live together before marriage and they both agreed that “…he’s a little old-fashioned.” for they had been together for three years. As the three examples above suggest cohabitation before marriage is a common practice, or even a fashion among young American and among the American people on the whole. Statistics shows that 41% of American women ages 15-44 have cohabited (lived with an unmarried different-sex partner) at some points. (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2002, retrieved on Feb 17, 2009 from ) As Mrs. Shaw, a protagonist in the short story Cosmopolitan by Akhil Sharma, first published in1997, states that “only overtime and through living together could people get to know each other properly.” (Sharma, as cited in Keillor. G, 1998, p. 66). For her, living together before marriage was a necessity to get to know each other before marriage. And she had done that. The evidence is she brought a number of men home at night as Gopal, her neighbor and boyfriend, saw different cars in front of her house every night. Like Aggie in Watermelon Days, Mrs. Shaw endlessly looked for true love, for her right man. Disappointedly, she could not find one for herself after countless number of affairs. The truth that she found out, as she shared with Gopal, was that there was a great difference between to love someone and to be in love with him. After many times living together with Gopal, she felt that she truly loved him but actually, she was not in love with him. As she explained: “When you are in love, you never think about yourself, because you love the other people so completely. I’ve lived to long to think anyone is that perfect.” (as cited in Keillor & Kenison, 1998, p. 67) From what she said, love is perfect. Therefore, she could never find true love because nothing is perfect. This uncertainty of love will result in disbelief and disillusionment, which may be one of the causes of the high separation and divorce rate in the United States. According to current statistics, from 41% to 50% couples in the U.S get divorce after first marriage, from 60% to 67% couples get divorce after second marriage and 73% to 74% break up after third marriage. (retrieved on February 15, 2009 from The statistics reveals that those who get involved in more marriage are more likely to fail. At the end of the story, a pitiful image of Mrs. Shaw is drawn with “..mascara stains beneath her eyes and silver strands mingled with her red hair.” (as cited in Keillor & Kenison., 1998, p. 69) The mascara stains and silver strands imply that she had grown old after years longing for her right men and true love. She had got exhausted. Nonetheless, what is concealed inside such modern appearance like Doreen, inside such casual treatment of love and sex like Aggie, Sang, Heather, and Mrs. Shaw is a woman of passion and desire who has her own identity and always tries to achieve happiness. Doreen, who held her head very high and was always stared at by the men in the street, after some time devoted herself for her new family, realized that she had missed a life of her own. “…she missed going to work. She missed going to dances. She missed putting on her camisoles and beaded chiffon dresses and feeling goose bumps in the cold.” (McNeal, as cited in Miller & Kenison, 2002, p. 214) Her ego had risen up. She started to hate housework, cooking for her husband, listening to his “cowboy tales”. However, the hardship of her marriage life, and the responsibilities with her new-born baby daughter Edna Arlene, had carried her ego away until that watermelon day. She heard the music. Yet, the music in the distance pulled her toward the festivities. She was stimulated by the music. She was so excited. She was drawn to the pavement dance, ignoring the sack races, the seed-spitting contests and the free watermelon. “Doreen positioned herself among the encircling fringe of onlookers and after a while stepped onto the pavement and pulled Edna Arlene out with her, trying by her own example to coax the girl into dancing…” (McNeal, as cited in Kenison and Miller, 2002, p. 219) Nevertheless, she could not do what she wanted because her daughter was too frightened. But when the handsome dancer fixed his gaze upon her, she became bewildered. A mixture of feeling slipped into her. She did not know whether she hoped the man to ask her to dance or wanted the man not to do it. “As he moved nearer, Edna Arlene’s grip on Doreen’s leg began to tighten and Doreen herself was overcome with something that seemed equal parts panic and exhilaration.” (2002, p. 220) Doreen should have been really exhilarated but for the tightening of her daughter’s grip which tightened her leg, or, as it can be inferred, the tightening of responsibilities to the exposure of herself. She could not expose herself to what she had used enjoyed and craved. Her wandering away from her daughter later revealed her desire to get rid of responsibilities for some moments for her own. Her ego came back again when, instead of going home to fulfill her stomach, Doreen alone went to Wilkemeyer’s pub, sitting herself on the same booth which she had seated long time ago when she and her husband spoke to each other for the first time. After ordering her drinks, she printed her maiden name DOREEN SULLIVAN on the napkin and cried when she found the words she saw odd to herself. She cried because of desperation to realize that she had missed herself, the haughty woman she had used to be. However, her desperation did not take her away. She remembered she had left her daughter for so long at the watermelon festivities. She returned to take her home. She had to come back on earth again. She could not forget the reality that she had a husband, a daughter and another baby to expect. By the end of the story, Doreen went out to the river alone. The image of her standing with her hands folded below the waist and her back straight in the illumination of a lamp fixed to the underside of the bridge over the river revealed an enlightenment that came to her. “…she could sense a stillness coming over the camps, and feel herself pulling imaginations up out of darkness.” (2002, p. 228). She had found peace inside herself and that imaginations had not left her. She had not lost her ego. Her spirits were improved so that she could came back home and enjoyed her husband singing as she used to do in the first weeks of their marriage. It is undeniable that Tom McNeal did a great job when describing the conflicts inside his woman. Such sophisticated descriptions help to indicate a sensitive and strong headed American woman like many other women in the difficult time of the early twentieth century. Up to the twenty-first century, such motif of an American woman has been developed in literature. Though with some differences due to new social circumstances, readers still feel their modernity, their strong identity and their desire for happiness. Like in the short story Shiloh by Bobbie Ann Mason, from the beginning of the story, we could see an image of a modern woman, very strong and energetic lifting “three-pound dumpbells to warm up, then progresses to a twenty-pound barbell.” (Mason, as cited in DiYanni, 2004, p. 62) She is Norma Jean, the wife of Leroy Mofit’s who had injured his leg in a highway accident when he was a truck driver. Norma Jean had a job at a cosmetic counter, therefore she knew all about make-up and was well aware of keeping fit by her daily exercises with weight-liftings. She was an active and energetic woman who enjoyed working and studying. After work, she used to come home and prepared dinner for her husband. Nowadays, she took up a six-week body-building course, after which she took an adult – education course. She herself found a list of jobs for her husband to choose from. When her husband refused to do any jobs where he had to stand up all day, she did not give up but encouraged him while doing her usual exercise: “you ought to try standing up all day behind a cosmetic counter. It’s amazing that I have strong feet, coming from two parents that never had strong feet at all.” (as cited in DiYanni, 2004, p. 65). She is a practical-minded woman as she never approved of her husband plan to build a log house for their own. She called a log house “a log cabin” and did not even care about it no matter her husband tried to persuade her. She is an independent woman because she often got crazy when her mother told her to do this and not to do that and especially, when she told her to go to Shiloh, an Civil War battleground in Tennessee where her parents used to spend their honeymoon, which she did not want to. She even cried and felt disapproved when her mother caught her smoking and shouted at her as if she was eighteen. And it was her to take the initiative to say good-bye to her husband after she agreed to go to Shiloh with him and her mother. The story ended with Norma Jeans standing by Tennessee River waving her arms toward Leroy as if she was doing her chest muscle exercise. She waved her arm or, as inference can be drawn, she waved goodbye to her past which had been made up of a gap between her and her husband. II.2.4. Generation gaps Regarding generation gap, it is no doubt that the gap is broad when the social circumstances which shape the characteristics of each generation differ greatly from each other. Let take an example of Julian and his mother in the short story Every

Các file đính kèm theo tài liệu này:

  • docthesis body.doc