Monday, January 19, 2015

Dr. King and Sethe's Best Thing (Blog Post #3)

Today, on the observation of Dr. King's birthday, I am thinking about the whitewashing of this holiday -- how Dr. King was assassinated on April 4th, 1968, in all probability because his political work, while retaining its peaceful and love-infused message, began to question the motives and goals of the United States' government.  In this speech that Dr. King made in 1967 in New York, he aligns poor people of all races in the United States with the citizens of Vietnam and poor people globally, in a furious protest of the Vietnam war.   He states his disgust with the U.S. government, for siding with colonizers and oppressors in international policy, as he questions their care for black peoples' lives, and poor peoples' lives in our country, .  Many of the points he makes are (unfortunately) still valid today, as well as relevant to Beloved.

As I'm thinking about the connections Dr. King's words make to the book, I return to Toni Morrison's thoughts about race -- that it is an idea that we have created, because it allowed the people in power to justify WHY they were in power, and that this idea we've created is now so deeply rooted into our society that we are having trouble moving on.  In a similar way, Sethe could not move on from her past at Sweet Home.  Near the end of the book, despite all that had happened and the many years that had passed since Beloved's murder, when she saw Ella's boss coming toward the house to potentially speak with Denver about work, Sethe's instincts and her history drove her back to Sweet Home and the schoolteacher, and she tried to hurt him.  As someone who had experienced a milder side of slavery, but then also the brutality that came with blackness in 1864, could Sethe ever heal from these wounds?  Can we, collectively, as a country, heal from the past that we are still struggling to reconcile, and whose ghosts are still haunting us, today?

Last week, rapper Kendrick Lamar was ridiculed by many in the hip-hop community for his statement about the Mike Brown case, the Eric Garner case, and the #blacklivesmatter movement, saying that black people are not going to be respected until "we learn to respect ourselves".  Near the end of the Beloved, when Paul D returns, Sethe is mourning the loss of Beloved, saying that "she was my best thing", to which Paul D responds that Sethe is her own best thing.  I see the ending of the book on this moment as Morrison's way of trying to inspire the self-love and self-respect that many former slaves were missing; not only did white people not see them as human, but many former slaves did not see or think of themselves as fully human, either.

What I'm asking you guys to do for this, your final blog entry of 1st semester, is to take the following quote from Dr. King's essay, and write a practice introduction and 1 body paragraph, connecting the quote to Beloved.  This is a practice for your final exam on Thursday (7th period) or Friday (3rd period), which is completing a practice ELA Regents exam.

Critical Lens Quote: 

"We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history there is such a thing as being too late." -Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Remember, in your response, be sure to:

- Interpret the quote, and explain what it means to you
- Agree or disagree, explaining why
- List which texts you will connect to the quotation (in this case, Beloved)
- Write a body paragraph in which you select specific evidence from Beloved to support your interpretation of the quote, and discuss HOW the evidence connects to the quotation.

Sending love, peace and the urgency of now.
-Ms. Lauren

Friday, January 9, 2015

Heart of the Story (Blog Post #2)

Hey guys,
I'm breaking the cardinal rule of motherhood, which is to sleep when the baby sleeps, because it's Friday morning and I'm asking you to blog by today, but I hadn't updated yet.  Sorry about that!  As you may or may not know, I did finally have the baby this past week, so I've been a little busy with her!  We are both home and happy, healthy as can be, thank you so much for your emails and comments wishing us well.  As a reminder, you can always email me if you have a question about something in the book or a question about class, grades, etc.  Also, I noticed that very few people commented on the blog last week - please be sure to stay focused during in-class time, as it is a chunk of your grade, and the semester is almost over!

Onto Beloved!  We finally learn, at the end of Part 1, that Sethe is responsible for killing her daughter, and attempting to kill all of her children; this came as a huge shock to me when I first read this book!  Sethe seems to be such a loving mother, who has her share of a very troubled past, but I never would have guessed that she had killed her own child.  Suddenly, lots of Morrison's foreshadowing started to return to my mind when I read this part... I started thinking about references to Beloved's scar, to the ghost baby being in the house at the beginning, to why people might not talk to Sethe and Denver in town, to why Denver stopped going to school, to Beloved disappearing in the shed while Denver was getting cider.  The shame of knowing that your mother was a murderer may have been too much to take!  Why do you think that Sethe acted so violently against her children?  What does schoolteacher's arrival at 124 have to do with Sethe's actions?  I'd love to see a conversation form about this in the comments, and hopefully in class!

Also, Stamp Paid goes out of his way to make sure that Paul D knows about Sethe's history, but Paul D doesn't believe him, insisting that the woman in the newspaper clipping wasn't Sethe.  He seems to be in denial at first, perhaps because he too can't believe that Sethe would commit such a horrible act. When he and Sethe finally talk about it and she tells him her reasoning, he makes the decision to leave her.  This was a decision that made me upset -- everyone else had left Sethe, and it seemed like she and Paul D were headed toward a happy ending, but the past can sometimes greatly impact the present, and perhaps her keeping this a secret from him was enough to send him away.  Why do you think that Paul D left Sethe after learning the truth?  Do you think it was the right decision for him to make?  Why or why not? (Use evidence from your reading to support your claim).

There's so much more to talk about and I'm sure you are having great discussions in class about the film and the book!  I'd love to hear more about your discussions in your blog response!  As I'm starting to think about Regents, I'm also starting to think about you guys using literary elements in your writing about novels.  I was thinking about conflict and plot structure, and particularly if the conflict of Sethe's murder of her child is also the climax, or turning point, in the book.  As a reader, it was a pivotal moment for me, when something major changed and I had to re-think the entire book. My last question to you is this: do you think that the scene of the baby's murder is the climax of the book?   If so, why?  If not, what do you think is the climax, or action-packed moment of truth?

Thank you guys so much for reading and responding!  I miss you all, but it's cool to see your responses here and I will be in better touch as my family starts to develop our little routine. :)  Oh, and I suppose you may want to see a photo of my daughter?  Here you go.  Now, write back to my questions and thoughtfully discuss the book!!

Ms. Lauren

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Denver and Waiting (Blog Post #1)

Hello my amazing students,

Hope your holiday break has gone well!!  I know that some of you expressed fear that you would forget to post to the blog over break, so you're in luck - I am giving you some time on Monday to blog in class (Ms. R and Ms. O will guide you through this), so that you can respond to me about your holiday reading of Beloved and make some connections to real-life events that have happened over the break.  I will be asking some questions as I think about my own reading through page 174 of the book, and I will write the questions below IN BOLD, so that you can have some prompts to think about - you do not have to respond to every question - but I am asking that your response be about 2 paragraphs, so please use evidence and details from your reading to support your ideas!  You can also respond to others' comments in your comment, too!

This week I am identifying myself with the character of Denver in Beloved, who I feel has spent so much of her life waiting for her father to return (and what's up with Halle?  Do we think that he has passed away?  Did he desert his family?  I'm curious to hear your thoughts on this character that we've heard about but haven't met)... my wait is for my child to make his or her appearance, and it hasn't happened yet, but I will post a photo next week, for sure! :)  Re-reading Denver's birth story made me feel very fortunate to be in the situation I'm in, though, as I have access to health care and modern facilities in which to birth my child.  In comparison, Sethe delivered Denver in a row boat and only had the assistance of Amy, they were alone in the woods on the Ohio River, and she had just escaped the brutality of a horrible slave owner, and nearly died in childbirth. I am very privileged.

Denver is a very interesting character to me -- the passion with which she has taken to care for Beloved shows evidence of her immense loneliness, but her feelings about Beloved don't waiver; even though she realizes that her sister really returned from the dead for her mother, she also cannot bear to think of a life without her sister.  I wonder, will Denver ever find a way out of the loneliness that seems to consume her?  When I read about her birth story, I was thinking about how Denver was born for a reason, against all odds, that she really is a survivor.  I wonder what Denver's purpose in life is, and how she will continue to grow as a character. Which character in the novel do you feel the most connection toward, either for the way that they have dealt with a situation you read about, or because of their approach to life?

* * *Spoiler Alert* * *

I also wonder about Paul D's feelings about Beloved -- he has very strong feelings of hatred for her in the beginning, but we learned in our reading over break that she has cast a spell on him, and literally moved him out of Sethe's bed and to sleeping in the shed.   I was shocked to learn that Paul D begins sleeping with Beloved... but it seems to me that she will do whatever she can to break him and Sethe up, so that Sethe's focus can return to her all of the time.  Beloved seems to be growing in power as a progresses as a character -- first she nearly strangles Sethe in the field from far away, and then she is able to physically move Paul D around the house, slowly moving him away from Sethe.  Why is Beloved so obsessed with Sethe?  What do you think she wants from Sethe?  And why is Denver keeping Beloved's secrets from Sethe (about her scar, about her true identity, about her relationship with Paul D)?

There is so much that we learned by the end of Part 1, and I am not going to spoil the major climax moment this week - we'll talk more about it in next week's blog response.  If you'd like, in your comment, you can answer the questions above OR you can write 1 paragraph AND make a list of the 10 most important events you've read in the book so far. 

Until next week, my lovelies,
Ms. Lauren