Caleb’s Crossing as Threshold to American Literature

Geraldine Brooks’ Caleb’s Crossing will help our introduction to American literature. While there are many voice and location to begin an American literature course, this historical novel may help us appreciate the colonial invasion from the Native American point of view as the Wompanag tribe has been living as a community for thousands of years on the island of Noepe, what later became knows as Martha’s Vineyard.

This novel opens up the North American land story by helping us understand how Native Americans viewed the land and lived with the other species on the land. Reflect on scenes where Caleb show Bethia how to plant crops in the three sisters manner, rather than ripping open the land. Note how Native American thought that oxen and horses ruined clam beds and other parts of the natural world. Contrast this point of view to how the colonists are “developing” the land the way they see fit for prospering. What are the two ideologies regarding the relationship each culture? We can also appreciate how most of the novel occurs right before the King Phillips War; it also provides an visceral chapter of how the Native American were on a long train of disposition of their lands by disease.

Bethia’s grandfather also wanted independence (part of our cultural DNA) and chose to live on the island to get away from the strict and severe rule of the Massachusetts Bay Company, governed by Jonathan Winthrop at the time. In the opening of this interview with Leonard Lopate, Geraldine Brooks compares Winthrop’s ruling style to the Taliban:

The novel will also help us appreciate the historical background to our major work of the term, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlett Letter.

We’ll explore the colonial experience from the point of view of a young girl. In the worlds of books, Bethia echoes other great young, curious girls such as Jane Eyre.


Posted in American Literary Studies, Becoming an American Literary Critic, Colonial Literature, English III | 3 Comments

Reflect on and Locate Chinua Achebe’s Post Colonial Novel, Things Fall Apart

Let’s enjoy this informative interview with Nigerian author Chinua Achebe that was recorded fifty years after the publication of his novel, Things Fall Apart. View this interview and take notes on a few items. First note what was Achebe’s first motive to write this novel. “What needed to be done,” according to Achebe? Also reflect on the universal themes that Achebe discusses.

We’ll then discuss during another day in class Chinua Achebe’s influence on Novelist Chimamanda Adichie. What motives do they share? Do you realize that they are writing in different eras? While we only have a short period of time to discuss the summer reading, we will focus on how Achebe uses elements of modernism (remember your spring term in English III?) to create a post colonial story. We’ll also be mindful that he influences other African authors today. Do you know of other authors besides Chimamanda Adichie who pay tribute to Achebe’s influence? 

Homework: To start a conversation on the blog before we meet in the classroom, listen and reflect on the value of Chimamanda Adichie’s lesson about moving beyond one story in her TED Talk, “The Danger of a Single Story.” What is the most important part of her TED Talk? Please cite a phrase, sentence, or paraphrase some of her TED Talk that informs your opinion. In order to draw out the writing process here, compose this comment to the length of 4-6 sentences in Standard English in a word document first. Then read it out loud and look over your prose carefully as a way to revise your prose in isolation. Then paste your prose below in the comment thread.

Here’s a great way to locate what we mean in an English classroom when we discuss issues of post colonialism:

Again, what other African novelists besides Chimamanda Adichie have taken up Achebe’s role and have tried  to tell  the story of their generation? Please research and post a thoughtful comment in Standard English below this post.

Posted in Design Thinking on HMK, Disposition of a Critical Thinker, Summer Reading, Things Fall Apart | 2 Comments

Diving Into the Life of Nikki Giovanni

NikkiMajority of Nikki Giovanni’s poems focus on the subject of discrimination against women and minority groups as well as people below the poverty line. Giovanni describes her poems as voices for those who felt voiceless. Although it may seem that many poems are from Giovanni’s perspec
tive, this is unlikely because she was born to two college educated parents in the middle class. Her grandmother greatly influenced her life as she was very outspoken. As Giovanni explained in an interview, “I come from a long line of storytellers” ( It was her grandmother who pushed her to enroll at the traditionally all-black college known as Fisk University. Upon graduating she attended the University of Pennsylvania as well as Columbia University. After receiving a teaching position at Rutgers University and the birth of her son, Giovanni turned to verse for children. These poems for children also focused on the feelings that many black children experience as they grow up. As the number of her works grew, Giovanni’s popularity as a lecturer and speaker also increased. Her outspoken poetry and other works has earned Giovanni many awards including multiple NAACP Image Awards, the Langston Hughes Award for Distinguished Contributions to Arts and Letters, the Rosa Parks Women of Courage Award and over twenty honorary degrees from colleges and universities around the country.

Posted in English III Honors, Feminism, Modernism, Poetry | 1 Comment

Augusta Savage: the modernism sculptured in the clay


Gamin 1921, by Augusta Savage

Augusta Savage, known as a famous sculptor of the Harlem Renaissance, used her hands and clay to demonstrate modernism and to lead the human rights movement. Augusta was born in Florida and was interested in sculpture. However, sculpture could not provide her a stable living in Florida since she was a single mother. Augusta moved to Harlem, New York, which provided her more opotunities to develop her sculpturing skills; she was then chosen to study sculpture in Paris. The French, however, denied her application based on her race, but her amazing skills attracted famous sculptors to teach her. After August’s hard workin, she became the first African American elected to the National Association of Women Painters as well as Sculptors and the first director of the Harlem Community Art Center.

One of her famous sculpture is called Gamin, which is a portrait of a black boy in 1920s. Gamin, as a name, is commonly applied to street urchins who are often the subjects of paintings and literature in the nineteenth century. If looking closely, we can tell this boy is crying. This piece of art is not simply a boy, but also represent something deeply meaningful: if thinking about the 1920s, you can tell it was the time of racial segregation in America. The crying face of the black boy is a symbol of the whole black people society, who was born to be treated differently and had unequal rights to white people. As a representative of modernism, this piece of art also portrays a sense of loneliness and alienation. Without audience’s engagement, the detail of crying is really hard to understand. This sculpture also requires reader’s decoding of fragmentary content, as an element of Modernism.

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Troy and Jackie Robinson- Similar Talents at Different Times

// times during the play Troy mentions that he is more talented than Jackie Robinso. but he was born at the wrong time. Troy insists that if he was born during the time of Jackie Robinson, he could have played professionally. Sadly, since Troy was born before integration of baseball was established, all he knew was the Negro Leagues. Troy feels a sense of alienation from this as he constantly swears to his family that if he were born later he could have been a more successful athlete than Robinson. His family does not seem to entirely believe this notion, but they continue to listen to Troy’s opinions.
Professional African American baseball players in the late 1800s were forced to play on all- black teams. There were various baseball managers and owners of Major League teams that wanted to have African Americans play for their teams. To get around segregation rules, some teams listed black players that they wanted to have on their team as Hispanic or Native American (Americas Library). Regardless of the efforts to include African American players on white Major League teams, baseball continued to be segregated into the 1940s. In 1945, Jackie Robinson joined the Kansas City Monarchs in the Negro American League. Baseball policies that separated black and white athletes changed after Jackie Robinson signed a contract to play for the Brooklyn Dodgers. That said, Jackie did not have an easy time playing in the white league, and he was often threatened, cleated, and harassed by both players and fans. Branch Rickey, the Brooklyn Dodgers General Manager, called it baseball’s “great experiment” as he was aware that the African American who would be chosen to play on a major league team with white people would have to be a strong individual who is able to avoid confrontation even when insulted with vicious comments from teammates and fans. Then, on October 23, 1945 Jackie Robinson officially signed his contract with the Brooklyn Dodgers. There were various reactions to Robinson’s addition to the Dodgers ranging from enthusiasm to hostile death threats by baseball fans and players. Through all of this, Jackie had incredible baseball ability that led him to win the Rookie of the Year award in 1947. He had a .342 batting average and 37 stolen bases leading to Robinson winning the National League’s Most Valuable Player in 1949. Later on in his career, in 1962, Robinson was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame (Americas library). African American sportswriters, who had preached integration in baseball for many years, focused on Robinson and other African American athletes. Robinson’s success on the Brooklyn Dodgers inspired the integration of other professional sports such as football, basketball, and tennis. The Negro Leagues experienced a great decline in participation after they began to lose players, spectators, and reporters as players started to play for integrated Major League teams (history). Jackie Robinson was not only a successful baseball player, but he was also successful in breaking the color barrier in sports.

If Troy had been born at the time of Jackie Robinson, could he have also broken the color barrier, or was it the courage and talent of Jackie Robinson that helped integration? According to Troy, all that was needed was one determined and talented athlete to integrate black players into white Major League teams, and Jackie Robinson just happened to be born at just the right time.

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The Dark Side of the Renaissance


panel 53

“Panel 53” by Jacob Lawrence

Although using a darker tone than the typical uplifting and free tone of the time period, “Panel 53” of Jacob Lawrence’s “Migration Series” exemplifies very well the Harlem Renaissance and some of the modernist themes and feelings that were associated with it. First, as the Harlem Renaissance had a large artistic basis in modernism, it is important to understand the biggest modernist theme being portrayed in the painting: alienation. The Harlem Renaissance was a time of joy and community, however, what Jacob Lawrence wants to portray in this painting is the small feelings that were not seen in other works of art and literature. He is showing the after-effects of the Renaissance and how all good things must come to an end. After the economic boom in the 1920s, there were a large amount of people who profited very heavily, including some black people. The use of this factual information in the painting is not just to point out that this did occur, but to show that after the boom and after the Renaissance with all of its joy and riches, reality, including isolation and depression, had to set in sooner or later. Lawrence portrays the side of the Renaissance that nobody wanted to mention, about how when the 1920s boom turned into the Great Depression, all of the fancy clothes, the fantastic worlds people built, and the lavish lifestyles they led, all faded away, leaving sour emotions people would hide behind their top hats, as seen in the painting. Lawrence very interestingly uses isolation to make the point not about the Renaissance but about the effect that it left on people and how they felt once they had very little left to find joy in.


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Modernism in MLK’s Final Speech

Martin Luther King Jr. had a major voice in the Civil Rights Movement.  He showed his people that they had the power to fight for what they believe in and equality. In his speech “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop”, he addresses his support for the sanitation workers at Mason Temple on strike. This speech would be his last, coming a day before his assassination in Memphis, Tennessee.  Although the speech is to workers, it correlates to all of the people during that time that suffering inequality. The Harlem Renaissance and Modernism both correspond quite well with another in King’s story. An important element of modernism pertaining to MLK’s fight and speeches is the loneliness that him and his people felt against society. MLK was a minister, and preached the word of God, and ultimately his dream. The society wanted segregation, while Martin Luther King Jr. has a dream of people coming together regardless of race. “But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land.” MLK was not going to give up and the black people persevered through these tough times. His message still lives on to this day with the fight for equality.

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Jacob Lawrence Depiction of Harlem


Panel 60 in “The Great Migration” series

Harlem, a neighborhood of cultural diversity and immense pride in their heritage was, at times, a tumultuous place to be.  Jacob Lawrence is an American artist that displayed the up and coming attitude of this previously displaced peoples inhabiting mid 20th century Harlem.  Lawrence lived during the Great Migration, the Great Depression, and the Harlem Renaissance.  Lawrence became a storyteller of the motifs that made Harlem breathe.  Jacob Lawrence is most well-known for paintings depicting the struggles of the black suffrage.  He sprung into the limelight after debuting his work called The Migration Series in 1941.  This collection of pieces gave Lawrence fame in what seemed to be a matter of weeks.

Jacob Lawrence portrayed the strife of the African American migrants from the south.  His meticulously crafted modernistic paintings to show how the fruit of the Great Migration was not bared immediately by the residents of Harlem.  They had to fight for their civil rights and for their respect in society.  Housing was a serious problem, as Lawrence showed us in And the Migrants Keep Coming.  The migration left the south in huge numbers, this meant they arrived with great numbers.  Thus leaving the neighborhood of Harlem to be grappled on by the supposed leaders of the area.  Corruption and guilt filled the streets of Harlem for some time, this gave the area character while also making it a place where change could be sprouted with the help of the right people.  That is how Jacob Lawrence improved Harlem with his modernistic painting.  He brought out a medium for people to formulate their thoughts.


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We Wear the Mask

We wear the mask that grins and lies,

It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,—

This debt we pay to human guile;
With torn and bleeding hearts we smile,
And mouth with myriad subtleties.
Why should the world be over-wise,
In counting all our tears and sighs?
Nay, let them only see us, while
       We wear the mask.
We smile, but, O great Christ, our cries
To thee from tortured souls arise.
We sing, but oh the clay is vile
Beneath our feet, and long the mile;
But let the world dream otherwise,
       We wear the mask!



From James Weldon Johnson’s We wear the mask. Reader can know the condition at that time period. Africa-Americans lived really hard. If they want to talk or do something with white people, they have to were a mask so white will treat them little bit better. If they do not wear the mask white people will still treat them really bad. Only when they are facing Africa-American they can take off the mask. That is the real of Africa-American, but they have to wear the mask for life.

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The Great Migration

The Great Migration and Fences

The Great Migration was the movement of African-Americans from the Southern States, such as Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, and Louisiana, to Northern, Western or Midwestern states, such as Michigan, Illinois, New York, and Philadelphia. Most Historians divide the Great Migration into two flows. One flow was from 1910-1940 and 1940-1970; both flows broke out when wars were emerging. The second migration (1940-1970) was much greater than the first migration (1910-1940). During the first migration “only” one million people migrated; however, during the second, five million migrated. The reasons behind the big migration were due between push and pull factors. The push factors which were a force that drove the African Americans to move to the north were poor economic and social conditions in the South. After the new reconstruction failed segregation laws known as the Jim Crow laws were established. The Jim Crow laws enforced color segregation in many places, including schools and transportation. It was coded in state and federal laws, the most famous one was the “separate but equal” decision in the U.S. Supreme Court in Plessy vs. Ferguson in 1896. Due to the segregation laws, many violent supremacist groups established, the most well-known is the KKK (Ku Klux Klan). The KKK were violent against African Americans. They lynched, beat up and degraded African Americans. Other economic inequalities include sharecropping and farm failure. During reconstruction expanding labor force and population developed, over labor was caused which caused many black families to rent small amounts of land, in return they had to give a portion of their crops to their white landowners.The economic pull factors were factors that attracted the African Americans. In the north, the economic and social conditions were better than in the South. This fact attracted many to move up north. The better northern conditions, such as wages and living conditions, were spread in many black newspapers, such as  The Chicago Defender.  As in the picture below, the newspaper promotes with capturing titles that African Americans have a chance and future in the North. In the picture, The Chicago Defender highlights

Front page of The Chicago Defender

that there are 500 new jobs open for blacks. This title is bold and directly attracts the attention of the reader. In addition, as WWI broke out there was a need for industrial workers, which African Americans saw as their opportunity for a life full of freedom.However, the escape of racism in the north had its limits. The life for African Americans was harsh in big cities, such as Chicago and New York. Moreover, the black population grew in those cities. In New York, it was by 66% and in Detroit, it was by 661%. The arrivals had difficulties finding a job and housing due to competitive conditions. Although segregation was illegal in the North, it was still widely spread. Many moved into black only communities which were known as the ghettos. With a large number of migrants, a new culture established. The Harlem Renaissance was a New African American Movement; it expressed artistically, literally and intellectually the African American identity. This era also increased the want and need for a political movement which represented the African Americans and their rights.


African Americans waiting at a train station

In the Fences by August Wilson the main characters Troy and Bono lived in black only neighborhoods in Pennsylvania in the 1950s. During the Great Migration, Bono´s dad moved north to flew the slave-like conditions in the south, doing that he abandons his son, which made Bono decide to not become a father. Additionally, do trains in Fences represent change. Like many other young men, Troy used the trains to come to the North during the Great Migration and flew from his abusive home. Bono ad Troy then arrive in a black only neighborhood with many other families who migrated from the south. Although segregation is illegal in the North, many African Americans feel less valued and appreciated in society. For example, Troy fears for his job when he asks his manager, why only white men drive the trash vehicle. Throughout the play, August Wilson shows how African Americans are treated unfairly in the north.  In an interview with Bill Moyers, August Wilson says that the African Americans who came to the North, hoped to have a better and more successful life, however, they arrived to the opposite. The North was discriminating and did not give chances to the African Americans. Agust Wilson even goes further and says that African Americans even in his time were discriminated and had hardship finding a job and housing.


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