Alienation

For our keyword project, our group decided to analyze the term alienation. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines alienation as the “withdrawing or separation of a person or a person’s affections from an object or position of former attachment : ESTRANGEMENT”. The term alienation was originally “alienacioun”, a Middle English word which was defined as a transference of property rights, derangement, or estrangement. The Middle English borrowed the word from the Anglo-French word “alienaciun”, which was borrowed from the Latin word “aliēnātiōn-, aliēnātiō”. So the history of the term goes way back and was used in many different ways and cultures. It is thought to be first used around the early 1500’s (Merriam-Webster, Alienation). This term, in most literature, simply means to cast someone out of a group, or a feeling of unbelonging. A theme of alienation can also be seen in many works of literature, including some of the books we have read in our course this year. Myriam Gurba in her memoir Mean experienced alienation because she grew up as a queer and mixed Chicana. In Claudia Rankines, Citizen: An American Lyric, she goes into depth about how people of color, specifically Serena Williams, are alienated from society through micro-agressions. Maxine Hong Kingston also shows how she was alienated from American culture because of her heritage in her memoir The Woman Warrior. And finally, Serena Williams was also alienated from the traditional tennis community and umpires because of her skin color and “outbursts”. It is critical to understand alienation when analyzing these works of literature in order to fully grasp what the authors are illustrating; that people of color or from different heritages are treated as if they have no place in society.

The term alienation can be seen as a theme throughout Myriam Gurba’s memoir, Mean. Throughout this memoir, Gurba discusses the difficulties and hardships she faced growing up during the childhood and adolescent years of her life as a queer chicana. 

She faced discrimination and was isolated from her classmates, peers and teachers; this caused her to believe the world was against her.

At an early age Myriam Gurba knew she was different from most people. From the time she started nursery school, it was evident that she was not like the other children because of her race. In the second chapter of this memoir, English is Spanish, Myriam starts speaking Spanish on the first day of nursery school as she believed everyone knew the same words. She didn’t know any better and believed since she grew up speaking both languages, that everyone else did. 

However, the nursery school instructors thought that because she spoke Spanish in class, she didn’t know any English, and tried to teach Myriam English; despite the fact that Gurba knew both English and Spanish. 

While most people learn a second language during the adolescent years of their life in school, Myriam was already ahead of the game and started learning two languages as her first language. However, since she was Half-Mexican, and she looked Mexican, the instructors assumed that she had no prior knowledge of English and she needed to be educated in the English language. Despite the fact that these women didn’t have bad intentions and were trying to help her, they demonstrated to Myriam at a young age that not all people are the same, and in this world, people are treated differently by how they look and where they come from. Gurba says, “I didn’t know Mexcians were Mexicans, a category for some mistake for subhuman, a category my grandfather mistakes for divine. People were people, and people talked, and talking was for everyone. Today, I understand the words that are for everyjuan, but that not everyjuan is for everyword….” (5), this just goes to show that whether we realize it or not, our actions impact those around us. Children are like sponges–they’re young, fresh and ready to absorb content of their surroundings and the world around them. Even if someone didn’t have the intention of hurting or offending a child, this could shape the narrative of their childhood.

 Gurba had to learn at a young age that she wasn’t like everyone else—she was different because she was Mexican; and because she was Mexican, she was going to be treated different. She was going to have a difficult life, because she wasn’t one of the caucasian girls and boys; and that’s a lot to process as a child.

Another incident where we can see how Gurba was being discriminated against, is in the chapter, Googleplex. A group of white girls made fun on Myriam and her friend, Ida for being Mexicans, so Myriam fought back and attacked one of the girls—making her cry and run away. They then were called into a classroom to discuss what happened, and Gurba carefully explained the events how the white girls were being racists towards them and called them “wetbacks and told them to go back to Mexico”. However, the English-only teacher said, “Apologize for making them cry” (20), despite the fact that these girls were racists and cruel towards Myriam and Ida.

These events only gave Gurba clarification that she was different from the people around her. She never had a chance. They were white and she was not; they were always going to look at her and treat her differently because of this. 

Growing up and living in a predominantly white society was always going to make Gurba out to be the outcast. 

  In Claudia Rankine’s Citizen: An American Lyric, microaggressions are used to make the reader feel uncomfortable and alienated from the rest of society. Microaggressions are defined as “verbal, behavioral, or environmental actions (whether intentional or unintentional) that communicate hostility toward oppressed or targeted groups including people of color, women, persons with disabilities, and religious minorities” (“A Guide”). The novel is filled with real stories that contain both subtle and intentional offensive remarks. Rankine uses the second person to put the reader in those situations and see how it affects us personally. We aren’t able to assign emotion to any other characters because it is us who is feeling the pain that microaggressions cause. Victims of microaggressions often find themselves asking questions like “Did she really just say that?” and “Did I hear what I think I heard?” (Rankine 9). Microaggressions relate to alienation because victims of both feel a sense of estrangement and isolation from certain groups and sometimes even society as a whole. 

In Chapter II, Rankine specifically focuses on Serena Williams, who is a prime example of alienation within the tennis community. Tennis has traditionally been a predominantly white sport with very little change. When talking about the emergence of Serena (and sister Venus) onto the tennis stage, Rankine used a quote from Zora Hurston that stated “I feel most colored when I am thrown against a sharp white background” (Rankine 25). The white background here are the traditional customs and long-established customs of tennis, and the numerous white opponents they face. To many people, Serena’s “black body didn’t belong on their court, in their world” (Rankine 26). So one might ask, who did belong on “their court”? Rankine answers this by including a picture of Caroline Wozniacki, another tennis player who is an image of “smiling blonde goodness” (Rankine 36). In the picture, Wozniacki has her top and bottoms stuffed with clothes to mimic how Serena looks (an obvious microaggression). To the tennis community, this was the epitome of a tennis player. This symbolized all of Serena’s attributes “while leaving [her] ‘angry ni**er exterior’ behind” (Rankine 36). This is an example of alienation because Serena is not only being isolated from the tennis community but is being mocked and ridiculed in the process. 

This alienation and indifference also followed her onto the court during play itself. Serena was treated unlike any other player because of her skin color and “angry” outbursts. In the 2004 US Open there were five bad calls made against her in the quarterfinals that were so clear that “no one could understand what was happening” (Rankine 27). Several years in the semifinals of the US Open a foot fault is called on a serve, again another overofficiating call against her. Serena’s outburst causes her to be fined $82,500 and be put on a two-year probation. These are all examples of unfair treatment against Serena that would not have occurred to other white opponents. And, when Serena wants to speak out against this injustice she is fined and put on probation. Rankine points out this alienation when she talks about racism and how skewed the balance of rules are. She says “Perhaps this is how racism feels no matter the context- randomly the rules everyone else gets to play by no longer apply to you, and to call this out… is to be called insane, crass, crazy. Bad sportsmanship” (Rankine 30). Rankine literally explains alienation here and how it feels to be oppressed in it. For Serena, when you try to play by the rules that others have been for hundreds of years, they all of a sudden don’t apply to you; and when you want to show your frustration and anger you are quickly stifled with flagrant penalties and fines. 

It is also clear within the “The Woman Warrior” by Maxine Hong Kington, that alienation is presented as a clear theme throughout Kingston’s life.   Kingston’s transition from her past Chinese culture in her family to her childhood growing up in America was difficult to maneuver through.  She first talks about the story of her Aunt, heard first hand from her mother, discussing the shame that was brought upon her mother’s sister for ultimately becoming pregnant with a baby and the nearby villagers ultimately punishing them by ransacking and destroying their home and all of their livestock.  Kingston goes on and relays this story to her growing up in America by stating, “Those of us in the first American generations have had to figure out how the invisible world the emigrants built around our childhoods fits in solid America.” (Kingston 2). This fixates on how difficult it is to carry her old traditions to the new world, growing up in a completely different culture compared to the stories and family traditions that still carry on with them along with adapting to American culture.  Furthermore, Kingston’s view of her chinese back-round is skewed because of how little she knows about it, only able to recollect stories that her mother tells her. This inevitably only allows her to speak about her culture from a second-hand view and even then she still finds it difficult to assimilate herself between her Chinese culture and her own life in American culture. Kingston also writes about how double standards in China are unfortunately placed upon women to become a dutiful and faithful housewife through marriage.  The aunt, whom Kingston has no name for, “always did as she was told,” discussing how, “Some man had commanded her to lie with him and be his secret evil.  I wonder whether he masked himself when he joined the raid on her family.” (Kingston 3). She realizes that women such as her aunt have no say in China, and obeyed the commands of another man out of this fear, realizing the mistreatment a woman received for an act that wasn’t meant to be placed on her in the first place.  Kingston listening to her mother’s story feels that her aunt was mistreated and alienated from her own family members as well as Kingston herself because of all the questions she couldn’t simply ask about her. Kingston stated, “If I want to learn what clothes my aunt wore, whether flashy or ordinary, i would have to begin, ‘Remember Father’s drowned-in-the-well sister?’ I cannot ask that.” (Kingston 2).  Consequently, this alienates her from a family member and her culture as she looks upon this event as something that is apart of her family and life but is disassociated with the inhumane culture that her aunt had faced punishment from. 

Another piece of evidence that displays alienation is Kingston’s childhood is her time as a young child growing up in an American school.   Kingston became alienated from other children at a young age and by popularity was nearly ranked towards the bottom alongside another chinese girl.  She goes on by illustrating a game that the students played and how, “sometimes the pitcher wouldn’t bother to throw to us. ‘Automatic walk,’ the other children would call, sending us on our way.” (Kingston 110).  These memories of Kingston’s separated her and some of the other students from truly participating in the game, based on her differences of being Chinese. She also writes how one day when alone with the other chinese girl, she aggressively attempts to get her to speak by pulling her hair and tormenting her in other physical and mental ways.  Kingston, desperate to talk with the girl essentially handles the situation completely inappropriately and believes she was punished for it by coming down with an illness that inherently keeps her in a hospitalized bed for months. As a young girl, Kingston’s introversion reflected on how alienated she felt, even from a girl who was simply in her same situation.  She recounts afterwards that, “sometimes I hated the ghosts for not letting us talk; sometimes I hated the secrecy of the Chinese.” (Kingston 117). Additionally, Kingston takes this interaction between her and the Chinese girl to portray the silence over them that alienates the two from each other due to their family’s secrecy, as Kingston’s parents would say “don’t tell” and the girl’s parents “protect[ing] both [of their] daughters.” (Kingston 110).  Ultimately, Kingston, and the Chinese girl especially, weren’t properly accustomed to naturally talking to each other, making it harder for themselves to have a conversation together or with any other kid. We see in literary texts like “The Woman Warrior” common themes of alienation that correlate with the invisible yet existing problem that separates individuals from society. This theme displays the separation and displacement of people in an environment they’re marginalized in and nearly forgotten about as a whole.  Kingston’s stories gives the reader a view from a life’s perspective that is transformed mainly due to barriers of her Chinese family and culture to first generational American life.

Works Cited

“Alienation.” The Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/alienation. 

“A Guide to Responding to Microaggressions.” Illinois.edu, https://wie.engineering.illinois.edu/a-guide-to-responding-to-microaggressions/.

Kingston, Hong Maxine.  The Woman Warrior. Alfred A. Knopf, 1976.

Rankine, Claudia. Citizen: An American Lyric. Penguin, 2015.

Fire of Hate: A Found Poem about Relationship Abuse

By Lucy Syvarth

For my found poem, I used the lyrics from the song “Love the Way You Lie” by Eminem. This song is about relationship abuse from the perspective of the abuser himself. Instead of keeping the same point of view of the abuser, I made my found poem from the perspective of the woman being abused. My method was to read the lyrics of the song over and over again while listening to it and picking out the most powerful words and phrases that stood out to me. I then printed the lyrics and cut out these words and phrases. I would look at them and think about what I want those words to say in the bigger picture. For example, when I saw the word “game”, I wanted to fabricate that into the speaker feeling like a game to be played. Additionally, with the word “suffocate”, I wanted the speaker to feel as if being with her abuser is suffocating. I also wanted to use the phrase “Here we go again” at the beginning and the end of the poem. I did this to show that abuse is a vicious cycle that is very hard to get out of. I left the last phrase without a period to create a sense of the poem being unfinished because this abuse isn’t over either. Additionally, I used the space on the page to space out lines that are meant to be read more slowly and space lines close to each other that are meant to be read quickly. I also taped the words on the page haphazardly to show that these are more jumbled thoughts of someone being abused rather than a thought out speech. I also shadowed some of the words with the same word for phrases that are meant to be read with more emotion, as if the speaker’s voice is breaking.

This poem means a lot to me, not only because I worked hard on it and put a lot of effort into it, but because I can relate to the speaker’s experiences. I put a lot of my own emotion into this poem. And even though the speaker feels broken down and trapped, I wrote this from the perspective of how I used to feel. Working on this poem empowered me because I realize how differently I now feel ever since I got out of that abusive relationship. Also, the song is about the same issue that my poem is about so it is nice to know that there are people that can relate. They take those issues and create them into a piece of art, whether it be a song or a poem. I never thought much about Zong! and what a found poem means but now that I created my own, I understand much better. It is about taking a piece of something that means a lot to you and making it into your own piece in order to tell a story and illustrate the feelings they bring up. I learned that you can take something that upsets you and create it into something to tell your story and empower you.

Deep Dive into Dreams

By Lucy Syvarth

Ever since we were little, we were told that we should have dreams; dreams about what we want to be when we’re older, dreams about what kind of houses we would want to live in, dreams about what we would want to do with our lives. These dreams kept us excited and hopeful about our futures, and that is why it is so difficult to let go of them sometimes. We have all given up on at least one of our childhood dreams, like becoming an astronaut or a Nascar driver. However, unlike some of us, the members of the Younger family are very determined to hold on to their dreams and fight to make them reality.

Lorraine Hansberry sets the scene and tone of the play in the preface of scene one. Readers are introduced to an apartment that seems small enough to only call it a “room”. She uses a lot of personification in the preface to make it seem as if this room has a personality. For example, Hansbury writes “[the furnishings] have clearly had to accommodate the living of too many people for too many years– and they are tired,” showing that a room that has been lived in long enough can seem to take on human feelings. Hansbury’s use of personification and dreary word choices makes readers sympathize for something not living– a “living” room. Readers can only dream that this room and it’s inhabitants will one day be free of the gloom and decay.

Lorraine Hansberry really does do something very different and interesting in the preface of the first scene. She shows readers the dark and depressing setting of this living room, which sets the tone for the whole play. However, these feelings that are projected onto the readers are subconsciously being turned into hope; hope that the dreams of the characters living in this place will come true.

It is clearly shown within the first act that all of the members of the Younger family have a dream that they want to achieve, all of them being very different. The most evident dream that is introduced is the one of Walter. Almost immediately after waking up, Walter asks Ruth about the check that is supposed to come in on Saturday, even though it is only Friday. Readers can see that money isn’t in abundance and is obviously important to the family considering the apartment that they live in. But Walter doesn’t seem to be worried so much about their living conditions. Walter and Ruth are put into a tense situation when Travis asks for fifty cents, and that is when Walter wants to tell Ruth about what he was thinking about in the bathroom. He reflects on the time that his friend Charlie Atkins wanted Walter to go into the dry-cleaning business with him. He seems envious and bitter while talking about it because Charlie is now “grossing a hundred thousand a year,” (32). This is when readers start to piece together why there was so much tension between him and Ruth when he gave Travis the fifty cents (more on this in a bit). Walter then goes onto tell Ruth about his dream of opening a liquor store, saying, “You see, this little liquor store we got in mind cost seventy-five thousand and we figured the initial investment on the place be ‘bout thirty thousand, see,” (33). Readers may think that Walter’s dream is only to own a liquor store, but it goes deeper than that, considering previous actions. 

Walter doesn’t only dream of owning a liquor store. In the bigger picture, Walter dreams of living a life where his family doesn’t have to worry about not having enough money. I came to this conclusion through the close reading of Walter’s dialogue and actions. One of the first things he mentions is the check that is supposed to come in. He seems very on edge, asking Ruth multiple times “What’s the matter with you?” and snapping at her when she tells him to eat his eggs (26). It is obvious that Walter would be a lot more relaxed if there was a check in the mail for him that day. Additionally, Walter’s actions are very different from Ruth’s when Travis asks for fifty cents. Ruth shuts him down immediately, saying “Well, I ain’t got no fifty cents this morning,” and continuing to dismiss him when he brings up the money. However, when Walter hears Ruth telling Travis that they don’t have the money, Walter says, ‘“What you tell the boy things like that for?” (Reaching down into his pants with a rather important gesture) “Here, son,”’ (36). He then continues to give Travis another fifty cents for fruit or a taxicab. Travis is obviously estatic and this pleases Walter. The final example of why Walter’s dream is more than just opening a liquor store is shown when he talks to Ruth about how he sees his life. Walter says “‘I’m thirty-five years old; I been married eleven years and I got a boy who sleeps in the living room’– (very, very quietly)– ‘and all I got to give him is stories about how rich white people live…’” (34). For me, this final quote really confirms the idea that Walter’s real dream is for him and his family to not have to worry about not having enough money.

The Youngers live in a world where they are surrounded by the privileges of white people and how life is much easier for them. Walter doesn’t want his family to live in this kind of world anymore. They always see how much more money white people have and all the things that they can do with their money that the Youngers can’t. Walter wants to open his own liquor store so he can have a shot at making a lot of money so he and his family can live comfortably and not have to be envious of people who do have money. Walter doesn’t want to tell Travis stories about “how rich white people live” anymore. Walter wants to tell him stories about how he had a dream and made it a reality.

Discussion Questions:

-Who’s dream can you relate to the most in Act I and why?

-Why do you think that it is important to have dreams and goals, and why do you think Hansberry focuses on them so much?

Hey!

My name is Lucy and I am a sophomore. My major is Adolescence Education: English and I can’t wait to be a teacher one day! I love reading and writing and hope to also publish a book someday in the near future. A fun fact about me is that I went skydiving this summer! You definitely should all try it!