Archive for June, 2009

Emily Dickinson’s Poems

Tuesday, June 30th, 2009

My life closed twice before its close;
My life closed twice before its close;
It yet remains to see
If Immortality unveil A third event to me,
So huge, so hopeless to conceive, As these that twice befell.
Parting is all we know of heaven, And all we need of hell.

Emily Dickinson (Stobaugh, AMERICAN LIT) uses the metaphor of death to describe the catastrophe that two terrible events caused. Were these the death of two friends? Two unrequited loves? We really don’t know.

What matters is that the pain of these events was so sharp that Dickinson feels as if her life ended. Loss exacerbates Dickinson’s already fragile metaphysics.

What happens after death, in immortality? Well we know, don’t we?

The last two lines of this poem present a powerful paradox; parting is heaven to some and hell to others. We part with those who die and–hopefully–go to heaven, which is, ironically, an eternal happiness for them; however, we who are left behind suffer the pain (hell) of their deaths (parting).

Is there any comfort in this poem? Not if one is the realist Emily Dickinson whose cold New England intellectualism offers scant protection against the frigid exigencies of death! It is fun20to talk about birds walking on sidewalks as long as one does not have to think about ultimate things.

But we all have to think about ultimate things once in a while. In “a while” for most of us is death. Where will you spend eternity? If the Lord Jesus is your Savior you know where you will spend eternity.

Contrast this tentativeness with Dickinson’s New England predecessor Edward Taylor (From “I Prepare a Place”):

But thats not all: Now from Deaths realm, erect, Thou gloriously gost to thy Fathers Hall:
And pleadst their Case preparst them place well dect
All with thy Merits hung. Blesst Mansions all.
Dost ope the Doore locks fast ‘gainst Sins that so These Holy Rooms admit them may thereto.

I like to read Emily Dickinson’s poems. I like to drink vanilla milk shakes too. But not too many and never for nourishment and life. How about you?

Come So Far!

Monday, June 29th, 2009

In Eudora Welty’s short story “Worn Path,” (from Stobaugh, AMERICAN LITERATURE) the elderly African-American grandmother protagonist, Phoenix, has come to the doctor to obtain medicine for her grandson. But, because of senility, she cannot remember why she came!

The nurse tries to tease out of Phoenix her reason for coming.

“You mustn’t take up our time this way, Aunt Phoenix,” the nurse said. “Tell us quickly about your grandson, and get it over. He isn’t dead, is he?’

At last there came a flicker and then a flame of comprehension across her face, and she spoke.

“My grandson. It was my memory had left me. There I sat and forgot why I made my long trip.”

“Forgot?” The nurse frowned. “After you came so far?”

After coming so far, after working so hard, have we home schoolers forgotten why we came? Are we at the place where we can get the solution to our problems, but have we forgotten why we came?

My wife Karen and I, while we were home schooling our four children, rarely thought of “grand” things. We wanted to teach math and English and maybe science (every other day?) and still get to soccer practice on time! We often forgot why we started doing this thing called home schooling: we wanted to raise a generation of offspring that would advance the Kigndom of God in this time and in this place.

Like Granny Phoenix we just about arrived at our destination but we forgot why we were there!

Then Phoenix was like an old woman begging a dignified forgiveness for waking up frightened in the night. “I never did go to school, I was too old at the Surrender,” she said in a soft voice. “I’m an old woman without an education. It was my memory fail me. My little grandson, he is just the same, and I forgot it in the coming.”

” . . . I forgot it in the coming.” How many of us forget our purpose of this great calling “in the coming?”

Today, in 2009, we need to remind ourselves about why we are doing what we are doing. It is a noble and grand vocation, this home schooling of our kids. Too sacred to trust to anyone else. Let’s do it! Let’s gather around our kitchen tables, in our dingy basements, and let us pause to remember where we are going and why we are

“This is what come to me to do,” she said. “I going to the store and buy my child a little windmill they sells, made out of paper. He going to find it hard to believe there such a thing in the world. I’ll march myself back where he waiting, holding it straight up in this hand.”

And while you are remembering why you are doing what you are doing, don’t forget to build a few windmills with the kids. Because it is time. Because it is time.

Missing Song

Friday, June 26th, 2009

There is a quietude about my students, a disturbing quiet. A quiet born of years of benign indifference. Indifference and neglect engendered by adults, parents and teachers, who, living in the messed up parts of their lives, have been unable to give students a dream to dream, a song to sing.

The adults are not bad people. Very little malfeasance occurs in this world. There is an abundance of victims, and paucity of perpetrators. Who is to blame for a generation that has no song to sing, no dreams to dream?

Perhaps we all are. The divorced parents who chose their immediate selfish gratification over the investment in laudable perpetual offspring outcomes. The mediocre teachers who never read HUCK FINN, languished in mediocrity, and recreated that mediocrity in their students.

Who is to blame?

Judges 4:3-4 The Israelites cried out for help to the Lord, because Sisera had nine hundred chariots with iron-rimmed wheels, and he cruelly oppressed the Israelites for twenty years. Now Deborah, a prophetess, wife of Lappidoth, was leading Israel at that time.

The land was in turmoil. There was judgement galore, and surely the Israelites deserved it. There were no more dreams, no more songs.

But God raised up an alternative culture, a culture of meritocracy, a culture of hope. Deborah and her colleague Barak scourged the land of its enemies. And song returned to the land . . .

Judges 5:1 On that day Deborah and Barak son of Abinoam sang this victory song:

“When the leaders took the lead in Israel,
When the people answered the call to war
Praise the Lord!
Hear, O kings!
Pay attention, O rulers!
I will sing to the Lord!
I will sing to the Lord God of Israel!
O Lord, when you departed from Seir,
when you marched from Edom’s plains,
the earth shook, the heavens poured down,
the clouds poured down rain.
The mountains trembled before the Lord, the God of Sinai;
before the Lord God of Israel.

Brothers and sisters, let us be the “Deborahs” to this generation. Let us dream dreams, sing songs again.


Thursday, June 25th, 2009

Christian home schooling, then, moves backward in time, far back in time, when intellectualism was not separate from religion. It blows the claims of the Enlightenment to bits. Home schooling has brought back stability into the lives of countless millions of America when the majority of Americans are living in a context of clashing realities where (as sociologist Kenneth J. Gergen explains “the very ground of meaning, the foundations and structures of thought, language, and social discourse are up for grabs.” When the very concepts of personhood, spirituality, truth, integrity, and objectivity are all being demolished, breaking up, giving way, home schoolers are doing things the old fashion way: parents stay home and love the kids and in the process lay their lives down for all our futures.

Theologian Paul Tillich wrote, “The lightning illuminates all and then leaves it again in darkness. So faith in God grasps humanity, and we respond in ecstasy. And the darkness is never again the same, . . . but it is still the darkness.”

All of God’s saints—past, present, and future—are flashes of of lightning in the sky. And the darkness is never the same again because the light reveals what life can be in Jesus Christ. “Memory allows possibility,” theologian Walter Brueggemann wrote. We home schooling parents bring memory. Our young people bring possibility. And Jesus Christ remains the Way, the Truth and the Life!

IT IS TIME! – Day 2

Wednesday, June 24th, 2009

I am more hopeful than ever. As sociologist Peter Berger accurately observes, evangelicals (and home schoolers are mostly evangelical) generally subscribe to two strongly held propositions: that a return to Christian values is necessary if the moral confusion of our time is to be overcome, and that the Enlightenment is to be blamed for much of the confusion of our time. The Enlightenment, again, advanced the Platonic idea that good is somehow connected to knowledge. It believed that everyone was good.

Christian home schooling is one of the most potent anti-Enlightenment movements in world history. Christia n home schoolers, argue that the largesse of Enlightenment rationalism has sabotaged the certitude of classicism and Christian theism that so strongly influenced Western culture long before the formidable onslaught of the likes of David Hume.

The fact is, too, that Christian home schoolers are quickly filling the ranks of American’s future leadership corps. Higher test scores is only one reason that home schoolers are capturing the elite culture of America.

The other reason is that our children know they are loved. The Christian psychologist Morton Kelsey argues that the most important component of mental health is that we know, without a doubt, that we are unconditionally loved. Friends, my wife Karen and I were not the best home schooling parents, but, by golly, we knew how to love our kids! And when they graduated from high school t hey knew that at least!

It is this combination of love and truth that is radically changing the social fabric of our nation. Home schoolers, let us proclaim the truth in love across this land. This is our time. Our moment. This movement we call home schooling might be one (but not the only) instrument that God is using to bring revival in this nation.

There is precedence. The American intelligentsia from 1620 to 1750 was radically Christian (i.e., Puritan). This combination of intelligence and spirituality has potent consequences. Christian social thinkers were the most capable urban sociologists in the 19th century much like many Christians are the best playwrights in Hollywood today. Could the home school movement be re-establishing this marriage of intellect and faith that our nation so sorely needs?

The Washington Post in 1993 coyly observed that evangelicals are “largely poor, uneducated and easy to command.” Evangelical professor Mark Noll unkindly observed, “The scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of an evangelical mind.” Indeed. Not anymore. Today, more than ever, in the garb of Christian home schooling, evangelicalism has gained new life.

Christian home schooling has opened up a whole new arena for debate. While conceding that faith is not a makeshift bridge to overcome some Kierkegaardian gap between beliefs and evidence, home schooling posits that it still is important that we look beyond our experience for reality. Reality is more than a two car garage and a membership in the country club. We have discovered that these are hard to own if we live on one income! Besides human needs and aspirations are greater than the world can satisfy, so it is reasonable to look elsewhere for that satisfaction. Worth is the highest and best reality (a decidedly anti-Enlightenment notion) and its genesis and maintenance come exclusively from relationship with God alone. Home schooling families, with its sacrificial love of one another and its extravagant gift of time to one another, offer a radical path into this new way of looking at reality.

A further complication is the fact that lukewarm Christianity, Christianity that is more existential than confessional, is not cutting the mustard. We need to live radical, go-for-broke-lives. As a friend once explained, we homeschoolers don’t make good middle management.

The great religious writer Unamuno created a character, Augusto Perez, in his book Mist, who, through omniscient narration, turned to his maker (e.g., Unamuno) and cries: “Am I to die as a creature of fiction?” Such is the cry of modern humankind. The Christian author and Harvard Professor Robert Coles lamented that we “we have the right to think of ourselves, so rich in today’s America, as in jeopardy sub specie aeternitatis, no matter the size and diversification of his stock portfolio.” As my old, eccentric Harvard Professor Harvey Cox (author of The Secular City ) said, “Americans once had dreams and no knowledge to make them come true. Now Americans have knowledge to make dreams come true but they no longer dream.”

But we are dreaming great dreams, aren’t we home schoolers?

It is time!

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2009

“What is truth?” Pilate asked. (John 18:38) Jesus Christ was concerned about the truth. “I tell you the truth,’ Jesus said, “until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.” (Matt. 5:18). And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is my disciple, I tell you the truth, he will certainly not lose his reward.” (Matthew 10:42). And so forth. For over a hundred times Jesus punctuated his aphorisms with this phrase, “I tell you the truth. . .”

Home schoolers are concerned about the truth.

The pursuit of truth is older even than our Lord’s bodily presence on this earth. Besides the Old Testament dialogues about truth (e.g., Proverbs, et al.), secular philosophers were also discussing truth. For example, the Greek philosopher Plato (a contemporary of Daniel) was discussing truth 500 years before Christ was born. In a long, long, time ago, in a place far, far away, Plato was discussing things like truth, politics, justice, and beauty. To Plato the pursuit of truth was the beginning and ending of all things. Plato was convinced, for instance, that if people knew the truth they would obey the truth. Plato argued that if people knew the right thing to do they would do it. In other words, immorality was nothing mor e than ignorance.

Of course, we who live on the backside of Auschwitz, The Great Leap Forward, and September 11, 2001, know that that is absurd. People are quite capable of knowing the truth and acting immorally. In fact they do it all the time. Sometimes really smart people can make very bad choices.

We all know that “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away; they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.” (Romans 3:10b-12) Everyone sins. Smart people also make bad choices. Indeed. Homeschoolers have to be more than smart—we have to be reedeemed! And redemption is not dependent upon what we know; it is dependent upon who we know.

While I was a graduate student at Harvard I lived outside Harvard Yard. New to the area, while I was traveling to class one day, I found myself hopelessly lost. Seeing some august, famous professors traveling at deliberate speed toward their destination I was sure that they knew the way to the Promised Land (i.e., Danforth Hall gate at the Yard). The truth was, I doubted for a few moments – in fact as I followed these capable, sagacious professors I remembered a better way. But, no, what did I know! These were the world’s smartest me n—but I was very late to my history class! They were more lost than I!

I am glad that I know the One who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

The Trappist monk Thomas Merton, in his essay “Reflections on Rudolph Eichmann,” shows how very likeable, intelligent, “moral” individuals can do monstrous things. Eichmann, and his henchmen were architects of the Holocaust where 6-8 million Jews were murdered. Merton concludes, “One of the most disturbing facts that came out in the Eichmann trial was that a psychiatrist examined him and pronounced him perfectly sane.”

We cannot merely be right, home schoolers, we must be saved.

Welty’s Use of the Journey Motif in “A Worn Path”

Monday, June 22nd, 2009

by Julia

Eudora Welty’s famous short stories continue to capture the imagination of readers everywhere. She is never predictable, never angry, but so brutally honest This great, and sometimes terrible, truth is seen most clearly through her characters. They are the beautiful, the slave, the child, and the tortured soul: Welty writes through the eyes of a hundred different people. One of her stories, “The Worn Path,” demonstrates this. Welty uses the journey of an old Negro woman to turn an otherwise unnoticed, but no less extraordinary, occurrence into something redeeming. “A Worn Path” tells the story of Phoenix Jackson, a grandmother who sets out on a long walk to town.

Welty’s motif is very consistent throughout the text. Rather like a small child on some great treasure quest, so Jackson marches along, refusing to allow anything to stop her. Her childlike determination is seen through a constant dialogue with the surrounding forest and herself. Behind an old, poor, beaten down woman there is a voice of great innocence. Behind her childish and naive murmurings, however Grandma Jackson is really a wise woman.

“Old Phoenix said, `Out of my way, all you foxes, owls, beetles, jack rabbits, coons and wild animals!…Keep out from under these feet, little bob-wwhites…Keep the big wild hogs out of my path. Don’t let nonne of those come running in my direction. I got a long way.’ Under her small black-freckled hand her cane, limber as a buggy whip, wo uld switch at the brush as if to rouse up any hiding things.”

Jackson’s journey is both literal and figurative. In the story, she is walking a worn path to town, and in her head, instead of absentmindedly thinking, she is journeying through her life. In this, the reader sees the true purpose of Welty’s motif. Despite the fact that Jackson is half-blind and over eighty-years old, she does not see her treacherous path as particularly dangerous. She plods it with the same determination that has characterized the rest of her life. There is no turning back. She is bigger, stronger, faster, and smarter. In Jackson’s mind, the odds are already overcome; she has traveled this journey many times before. She knows her strength, choosing to forget her handicaps:

“At the foot of this hill was a place where a log was laid across the creek.
`Now comes the trial,’ said Phoenix.
Putting her right foot out, she mounted the log and shut her eyes. Lifting her skirt, leveling her cane fiercely before her, like a festival figure in some parade, she began to march across. Then she opened her eyes and she was safe on the other said.
`I wasn’t as old as I thought,’ she said.”

Welty reminds the reader of Jackson’s true self by infusing the plot with visual imagery. In her own picture of herself, Jackson is not only an old woman, but also a great hero. However, Welty offers moments, flashes of time, when the reader is jolted back into reality, and realizes Jackson’s true identity:

“A black dog with a lolling tongue came up out of the weeds by the ditch. She was meditating, and not ready, and when he came at her she only hit him a little with her cane. Over she went in the ditch, like a little puff of milkweed.

Down there, her senses drifted away…`Olld woman,’ she said to herself, `that black dog come up out of the weeds to stall you off, and now there he sitting on his fine tail, smiling at you.”

The description, “little puff of milkweed” compares Jackson to a small, pale, fragile flower. Her tumble into the ditch reminds both herself, and the reader, that the journey is not over, but she is not as young as before. Jackson’s attitude suggests that, perhaps, if one forgets their inabilities, their flaws and weaknesses, there is a possibility of achieving great things despite one’s limitations.
Phoenix Jackson has had a long journey through life. As a black woman, her experiences have been more difficult than most. Just as she fearlessly travels to bring her little grandson medicine, so she continues to travel through life. She accepts no help and asks for no favors. Her pride is laughable to some, yet there is a great dignity that she makes no attempt to hide. Her journey is the journey, not only of herself, but also of her family, of her heritage

Dreams of Glass Menagerie Characters

Friday, June 19th, 2009

Tennessee Williams’ renowned play, The Glass Menagerie, is the intense, evocative, and at the same time incomplete, embodiment of an American family. Despite the fact that its characters are static and rather shallow, the plot predictable?, and the dialogue familiar, Williams skillfully navigates the reader through a host of familial troubles. This play focuses on the Wingfield’s: the mother, Amanda; daughter, Laura; and eldest son, Tom. Their complete disfunctionality only serves to heighten the appeal of Williams’ play. Most tragically, the characters have some dream, aspiration, or desire to which they cling. In the end, no dream is truly fulfilled.

Amanda, the mother, is perhaps the least stable character. Amanda does not have a firm grasp on reality, and so spends her days mulling over fabricated memories of gentlemen callers, popularity, and the wealth she never had:

“AMANDA: They knew how to entertain their gentlemen callers. It wasn’t enough for a girl to be possessed of a pretty face and graceful figure—although I wasn’t slighted in either respect. She also needed to have a nimble wit and a tongue to meet all occasions…My callers were gentlemenâ—all! Among my callers were some of the most prominent young planters of the Mississippi Delta—planters and sons of planters!

[Tom motions for music and a spot of light on Amanda. Her eyes lift, her face glows, her voice becomes rich and elegiac.]”

Amanda’s formerly glamorous and elegant past becomes an obsession, and, even more dangerous, she begins to imprint her obsession on her daughter, Laura. She wants Laura to be the same beautiful social butterfly that she herself was. Amanda’s dream is to have a perfect daughter, for Laura to have a high-paying job, many beaux, and popularity. She resents the twist of fate that took her away from the Deep South and into the North. It is this attitude that shows Amanda to be shallow, demanding, and conditional. She cannot accept her own daughter, and so embarks on a quest to recreate Laura, no matter how untrue this person is to Laura’s real self. She simply says, “All girls are a trap, a pretty trap, and men expect them to be.”

Laura is neither beautiful nor a social butterfly. In contrast, she wears a brace to correct a bend in her leg, is sickly and plain, and shows no desire for a high paying job or fashion. Most of all, Laura is painfully shy, a result of her mother’s constant attempts to socialize her. Her one interest is a small glass “menagerie” that she has collected over the years. In other words, Laura is the exact opposite of Amanda’s ideal daughter:

“LAURA: [rising] Mother, let me clear the table.

AMANDA: No, dear you go in front and study your typewriter chart. Or practice your shorthand a little. Stay fresh and pretty! It’s almost time for our gentlemen callers to start arriving. [She flounces girlishly toward the kitchenette]

…LAURA: [Alone in the dining room] I don’t believe we’re going to receive any, Mother.

AMANDA: [reappearing airily] What? No one—not one? You mustt be joking! …Not one gentlemen caller? It can’t be true!! There mus t be a flood, there must have been a tornado!

LAURA: It isn’t a flood, it’s not a tornado. I’m just not popular like you were in Blue Mountain…I’m going to be an old maid.â”

Laura’s ultimate dream is to be loved and accepted for who she is, not who she could be. Amanda’s conditional love is not enough for the frail and simple-minded Laura. She also wishes to be rid of her physical defect, to be beautiful and, most of all, free of her mother. Laura’s shyness makes her as vulnerable and conspicuous as the glass figures in her “menagerie.”

The narrator, Tom, is another very important character. Like his sister, Tom is smothered and exasperated by Amanda’s constant demands. His job as a factory worker takes him away from home most of the day, and often into the night. This dreary work depresses and frustrates Tom, an otherwise free-spirited youth. Much like the author himself, Tom is seen as an outsider; he is creative and artistic, but nonetheless alienated from sophisticated society. He is the quintessential loner.

The frustration of work, combined with Amanda’s constant nagging, produces a very discontent young man. Tom is unable to go out or enjoy himself with friends; every time he attempts to “have a little fun” Amanda rebukes him for being lazy. Gradually, Tom begins to see that Laura’s confinement and his mother’s utter ridiculousness will only serve to drive him mad:

TOM: Listen! You think I’m crazy about the warehouse? [He bends fiercely towards her slight figure.] You think I’m in love with the Continental Shoemakers? …Every time yoou come in yelling that goddamn “Rise and Shine!” “Rise and Shine!” I say to myself, “How lucky dead people are.” …And you say self—selfâ€f’s all I ever think of. Why, listen, if self is what I thought of Mother, I’d be where he is—GONE! [He points to his father’s picture.] As far as the system of transportation reaches!”

In reality, Tom’s dream is to follow in his father’s footsteps, leave the family and never come back. In the end, he does. Tom abandons Amanda and Laura just like he had always wanted.

The dreams of Amanda, Laura are never fulfilled. Tom is the only one who experiences a kind of satisfaction. His dream is cruelly carried out. He realizes that as long as he is with his mother and sister, there will never be anything but discord. The frail Laura is too cowardly to resist her mother’s intentions, and so has to be content with her glass “menagerie,” both literally and figuratively. Amanda is too delusional to realize her own needs, much less those of others. The remaining Wingfield’s are no longer a family, but a group of bitter and desperately lonely people.–Julia

Purpose of Juana in The Pearl

Thursday, June 18th, 2009

Based on a Mexican folk tale, The Pearl, written by John Steinbeck, centers around the story of Kino, a poverty-stricken Mexican pearl diver who struggles to provide for his family. One fateful day, his young son Coyotito is stung by a scorpion. In desperation, Kino returns to the ocean to find a pearl valuable enough to pay a doctor. The pearl he finds is the size of a seagull’s egg, enough to pay the doctor and much more. With the pearl comes hope, the promise of a new life, and the ability to rise above poverty. However, the pearl only serves to create a vicious circle of cruelty, greed, and corruption within Kino’s own village. He, his wife Juana, and Coyotito are forced to flee, resulting in even greater tragedy. In the end, Kino looks at the pearl and sees nothing but death, horror, and evil. He flings it back into the ocean, left with nothing but anger and grief.
Perhaps one of the most important characters in this book is Kino’s wife, Juana. Despite her quiet and almost vague demeanor, it is Juana who predicts the tragic turn of events before they happen. It is Juana who senses the evil song of the pearl, and attempts to drown it out with love. In her own way, it is Juana who is the tragic heroine. When Kino first comes to her with the pearl, Juana is overjoyed, sharing her husband’s dreams of leaving behind poverty and oppression. However, Juana is more and more assured that the pearl is a symbol of evil, not hope.
One of the most obvious questions raised by the reader is why Juana allows her husband to keep the pearl. Why does she not voice her opinions more openly? From the beginning, it is clear that Juana is much more practical and cautious than her husband. As in many Hispanic cultures, Juana looks on her husband as the ultimate authority, one that should only be questioned under extreme duress. In addition, she loves Kino and trusts him. Juana pushes aside her own instincts to trust those of her husband:

“Juana watched him [Kino] with worry, but she knew him and she knew she could help him best by being silent and by being near. And as though she too could hear the Song of Evil, she fought it, singing softly the melody of the family, of the safety and warmth and wholeness of the family. She held Coyotito in her arms and sang the song to him, to keep the evil out, and her voice was brave against the threat of the dark music.”

Despite having little education, Juana is not an ignorant woman, possessing more common sense than the resourceful Kino. In reality, Juana attempts to resist her husband’s wishes, even trying to throw the pearl back into the ocean, only to be beaten by her husband. Most importantly, Juana realizes that they are extremely poor, and will very likely stay that way, even with the pearl. It sounds crue l, but she knew the limitations of their society. She knows that poor Mexican pearl divers cannot find such a precious and rare pearl and expect to keep it, at least not without a fight.

Unlike Kino, Juana recognizes that their place in society is unchanging. She believes that things will go much smoother if Kino stays the same, if her family stays the same. She would rather protect what little they have than give it all away on a whim. Juana knows that if the pearl proves to be as evil as it seems, she, Kino, and Coyotito will lose everything. In the end, Kino does lose everything that he has worked so hard to obtain. Ultimately, he is cut off from his family, utterly blind, and completely guilty.

Juana accepts her fate with quiet solemnity. She forgives Kino for the death of their son, and is the same, quiet, submissive wife she has always been. The book ends too abruptly to ascertain anything deeper than this from her manner. She is heartbroken, but suffers stoically, never crying or voicing emotion. In a way, this silence is tragic. Neither Kino nor Juana can grieve for very long, it will only make matters worse. They have to keep20on living, taking and using what little the earth has given them. Juana’s only satisfaction is watching the pearl, a symbol of such evil, be thrown away:

“Kino and Juana watched it go, winking and glimmering under the setting sun. They saw the little splash in the distance, and they stood side by side watching the place for a long time.

And the pearl settled into the lovely green water and dropped toward the bottom….A crab scampering over thee bottom raised a little cloud of sand, and when it settled the pearl was gone.

And the music of the pearl drifted to a whisper and disappeared.”

The Pearl is a tragic example of how greed and recklessness destroy a family, and almost an entire livelihood. Although Kino himself is not greedy, he refuses to listen to the wisdom of his wife, Juana. If he had, there would have been little or no trouble; their son’s death could be avoided. Kino trusts the pearl more than he trusts his wife. Strangely, the pearl’s evil is seen only by Juana, the one person who rejects her husband’s idea of riches and glory. –Julia


Wednesday, June 17th, 2009

from a distance learning student–

At the age of thirty-five, on the night of Good Friday in the year 1300, Dante finds himself lost in a dark wood and full of fear. He sees a sun-drenched mountain in the distance, and he tries to climb it, but three beasts, a leopard, a lion, and a she-wolf, stand in his way. Dante is forced to return to the forest where he meets the spirit of Virgil, who promises to lead him on a journey through Hell so that he may be able to enter Paradise. Dante agrees and follows Virgil though the gates of Hell.

The two poets enter the vestibule of Hell where the souls of the uncommitted are tormented by biting insects and damned to chase a blank banner around for eternity. The poets reach the banks of the river Acheron where souls await passage into Hell proper. The ferryman, Charon, reluctantly agrees to take the poets across the river to Limbo, the first circle of Hell, where Virgil permanently resides. In Limbo, the poets stop to speak with other great poets, Homer, Ovid, Horace, and Lucan, and then enter a great citadel where philosophers reside.

Dante and Virgil enter Hell proper, the second circle, where the sinners of the Incontinence begin. Here, the monster Minos sits in judgmen t of all the damned, and sends them to the proper circle according to their sin. Here, Dante meets Paolo and Francesca, the two unfaithful lovers buffeted about in a windy storm.

The poets move on to the third circle, the Gluttons, who are guarded by the monster Cerberus. These sinners spend eternity wallowing in mud and mire, and here Dante recognizes a Florentine, Ciacco, who gives Dante the first of many negative prophesies about him and Florence.

Upon entering the fourth circle, Dante and Virgil encounter the Hoarders and the Wasters, who spend eternity rolling giant boulders at one another. They move to the fifth circle, the marsh comprising the river Styx, where Dante is accosted by a Florentine, Filippo Argenti, one amongst the Wrathful that fight and battle one20another for eternity in the mire of the Styx.

The city of Dis begins Circle VI, the realm of the violent. The poets enter and find themselves in Circle VI, realm of the Heretics, who reside among the thousands in burning tombs. Dante stops to speak with two sinners, Farinata degli Uberti, Dante’s Ghibelline enemy, and Cavalcante dei Cavalcanti, father of Dante’s poet friend, Guido.

The poets then begin descending through a deep valley. Here they meet the Minotaur and see a river of boiling blood, the Plegethon, where those violent against their neighbors, tyrants, and war-makers reside, each in a depth according to their sin. Virgil arranges for the Ce ntaur, Nessus, to take them across the river into the second round of circle seven, the Suicides. Here Dante speaks with the soul of Pier delle Vigne and learns his sad tale. In the third round of Circle VII, a desert wasteland awash in a rain of burning snowflakes, Dante recognizes and speaks with Capaneus, a famous blasphemer. He also speaks to his beloved advisor and scholar, Brunetto Latini. This is the round held for Blasphemers, Sodomites, and the Usurers.

The poets enter Circle VIII, which contains ten chasms. The first chasm houses the Panderers and the Seducers who spend eternity lashed by whips. The second chasm houses the Flatters, who reside in a channel of excrement. The third chasm houses the Simonists, who are plunged upside-down in baptismal fonts with the soles of their feet on fire. Dante speaks with Pope Nicholas, who mistakes him for Pope Boniface. In the fourth20chasm, Dante sees the Fortune Tellers and Diviners, who spend eternity with their heads on backwards and their eyes clouded by tears. At the fifth chasm, the poets see the sinners of Graft plunged deeply into a river of boiling pitch and slashed at by demons. At the sixth chasm, the poets encounter the Hypocrites, mainly religious men damned to walk endlessly in a circle wearing glittering leaden robes. The chief sinner here, Caiaphas, is crucified on the ground, and all of the other sinners must step on him to pass. Two jovial friars tell the poets the way to the seventh chasm, where the Thieves have their hands cut off and spend eternity among vipers that transform them into serpents by biting them. They, in turn, must bite another sinner to take back a human form. At the eighth chasm Dante sees many flames that conceal the souls of the Evil Counselors. Dante speaks to Ulysses, who gives him an account of his death. At the ninth chasm, the poets see a mass of horribly mutilated bodies. They were the sowers of discord, such as Mahomet. They are walking in a circle. By the time they come around the circle, their wounds knit, only to be opened again and again. They arrive at the tenth chasm, the Falsifiers. Here they see the sinners afflicted with terrible plagues, some unable to move, some picking scabs off one another.

They arrive at the Circle IX. It is comprised of a giant frozen lake, Cocytus, in which the sinners are stuck. As they approach the well of circle nine, Dante believes that he sees towers in the distance, which turn out to be the Giants. One of the Giants, Antaeus, takes the poets on his palm and gently places them at the bottom of the well. Circle IX is composed of four rounds, each housing sinners, according to the severity of their sin. In the first round, Caina, the sinners are frozen up to their necks in ice. In the second round, Antenora, the sinners are frozen closer to their heads. Here Dante accidentally kicks a tr aitor in the head, and when the traitor will not tell him his name, Dante treats him savagely. Dante hears the terrible story of Count Ugolino, who is gnawing the head and neck of Archbishop Ruggieri, due to Ruggieri’s treacherous treatment of him in the upper world. In the third round, Ptolomea, where the Traitors to Guests reside, Dante speaks with a soul who begs him to take the ice visors, formed from tears, out of his eyes. Dante promises to do so, but after hearing his story, refuses. The fourth round of Circle IX, and the very final pit of Hell, Judecca, houses the Traitors to Their Masters, who are completely covered and fixed in the ice, and Satan, who is fixed waist deep in the ice and has three heads, each of which is chewing a traitor; Judas, Brutus, and Cassius.

The poet’s climb Satan’s side, passing the center of gravity, and find themselves at the edge of the river Lethe, ready to make the long journey to the upper world. They enter the upper world just before dawn on Easter Sunday, and they see the stars overhead. –zac