New Voices New Visions 2007
a collection of essays from the Composition Program
Department of English
State University of New York at New Paltz
ISBN and Permissions
New Voices, New Visions 2007
is dedicated to
Dr. Stella Deen
Chair, English Department 2003-2007
STATE UNIVERSITY OF NEW YORK AT NEW PALTZ
THE DEPARTMENT OF ENGLISH & THE COMPOSITION PROGRAM
Professor of English; Chair
Associate Professor of English; Deputy Chair
Associate Professor of English; Coordinator, Composition Program
Lecturer; Coordinator, Teaching Assistant Program
Lecturer; Coordinator, SWW Composition Program
Composition Program Assistant
Judges for the 2006-2007 Academic Year
Cover Image: DANIEL MOREL
Hand Images: JULIA PREWYSZ-KWINTO
NEW VOICES, NEW VISIONS
It’s the End of the World As We Know It: A Look Into American
Instructor: Joshua Gran
Ceremonies Across Time
Instructor: Abigail Robin
Instructor: Rachel Rigolino
Graffiti in Urban Communities
Instructor: Rachel Rigolino
A Russian Love Story of Flight
Instructor: Jennifer Lee
Marcus Mosiah Garvey: The Man and His Influence
Instructor: Rachel Rigolino
Is All Sense of Morality Thrown to the Wind When It Comes to War?
Instructor: Lynne Crockett
To Pull Out or Continue Fighting: That is the Question
Instructor: Lynne Crockett
So Vonnegut Goes...the War on Fate or Fateful War?
Instructor: Donna Baumler
Growing Up Newburgh
Instructor: Candace Whitt
The Children’s Crusade
Instructor: Donna Baumler
Catcher in the Rye Character Analysis
Instructor: Donna Baumler
Religious Undertones and the Actions of the Beast People
Instructor: Donald O’Dell
If Only You Can See What I’ve Seen With Your Eyes
Instructor: Abigail Robin
A Poem on the Underground Wall
Instructor: Andrea Ditter
Persona vs. Shadow
Instructor: Marissa Caston
A Little Voice Inside My Head Said “Don’t Look Back…
Instructor: Jenica Lyons
All Secrets Sleep in Winter Clothes
Instructor: Marissa Caston
Instructor: Lynne Crockett
Summer Reading 2006: Haitian Photographs and Responses
Photos by Daniel Morel
The Informational Essay
Informational essays, as the title suggests, provide information about a topic. However, in order to move beyond being merely descriptive, these essays include an interpretation of the topic under consideration.
It's the End of the World As We Know It: A Look Into American Apocalyptic Beliefs
The word "apocalypse" derives from the Greek word apokalypsis, meaning "lifting of the veil." Most commonly, "apocalypse" is used to describe the end of the world. Whether it be through the Antichrist, a nuclear attack, or alien invasion, many people hold beliefs about the apocalypse. Some preach that the end is near, while others feel the world will not be over for thousands of years. Regardless of when the end will happen, the idea that the fate of the world is out of the hands of the people that inhabit it is terrifying to Americans. Due to the intense fear and helplessness that the prospect of the apocalypse invokes, a plethora of people have adopted apocalyptic beliefs, allowing them to guide their lives, as well as shape American culture.
There are various views on how and when the end of the world will occur, with three theories being the most prominent. The first involves a set of Christian beliefs that are outlined in the Christian book of Revelation. Many feel this book to be sacred and the word of God, while others find it unnecessarily violent and harsh, with early church fathers debating as to whether or not it belonged in the Bible at all. In the book, the author, a "favorite" of God named Saint John, describes a set of prophecies about the end of the world (Kirsch 5-7). In the book, God must defeat the Devil by destroying the world and starting all over again. In the destruction of the world, the true Christians must endure a period called "tribulation," marked by horrors such as earthquakes, famine, and plague. After seven years, Jesus Christ will descend and a battle will be fought at Armageddon. Satan will then be bound in chains and confined to a bottomless pit and the survivors of tribulation will live in a kingdom under the reign of Jesus. Jesus must then fight against Satan again to finally cast him away forever. Then the "first earth" will be brought to an end and the living and dead alike will be judged and rewarded or punished based on what God decides. Those who have kept "faith in Jesus" will live in bliss in the new heaven, while the others will be cast into the lake of fire and brimstone (Kirsch 8-11). Revelation outlines a horrific and gory ending to the world, while only those that keep the "faith" survive. Those who take this book literally adopt its apocalyptic views into their everyday life, spending their days pleasing God. Many also try to figure out exactly when the world will end, as Revelation does not specifically say. Others see speculation on the date of the apocalypse as sinful and going against Jesus (Kirsch 111). Some people interpret this book in different ways, not quite adopting the entire prophecy, but believing that everything is in fact in God's hands. Some followers feel that if nuclear war were to end the world, it would be God's doing (Kirsch 216). However readers interpret Revelation, this book has influenced the beliefs of thousands of people, invoking fear and anxiety. Many people, after studying Revelation, scramble to "prepare" by praying and performing spiritual practices to ensure that they are among those that are "saved."
A second outstanding view of the apocalypse involves nuclear proliferation. During the twentieth century, ideas of a Godless apocalypse became popular. Apocalyptic prophecies evolved from spiritual to more scientific and practical. Rather than holding the belief that God carries out a divine plan, many Americans began taking on the notion that the world will be destroyed by careless and heartless people with dangerous weapons. Ideas about a nuclear apocalypse were first expressed after the detonation of the first atomic bomb at Alamogordo, New Mexico in 1945 (Wojcik 101). The popular belief was that with the invention of the bomb, humans set themselves down a path of destruction that will ultimately lead to the end of the world. The potency of nuclear apprehension brought on the invention of the Doomsday Clock, devised by the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists in 1947 (Kirsch 214). This clock is a symbol, meant to expose how close the world is to nuclear war. Every time an event occurs that the Bulletin feels has pushed the world closer to nuclear destruction, the hands are moved closer to midnight. And thus the "nuclear era" was brought on and bombings became the subjects of movies, books, and magazines; people spent their days practicing drills and building fallout shelters. A new attitude of mistrust seeped into the population.
In addition to Christian beliefs and nuclear warfare, many believe an alien invasion will end the world. Ever since a man named Kenneth Arnold claimed he saw nine disk-shaped objects in the sky in 1947, ideas of UFOs have invaded the minds of Americans. Some are frightened of aliens, perceiving them as superior beings who wish to take advantage of humans or destroy the earth. Others see extra terrestrials as beings who wish to offer salvation and answers to humans. Carl Jung believed that UFO sightings were a result of Cold War anxieties. Jung thought that people were afraid of nuclear war and therefore longed for a divine resolution to this crisis (Wojcik 192). Whether people see aliens as harmful or beneficial, UFO beliefs have made an enormous impact in American culture.
The extent to which apocalyptic beliefs have permeated American culture can be seen through strange behavior, various organizations promoting apocalyptic awareness, and popular culture. Three apocalyptic perceptions have caused the biggest uproar in peoples' lives. The first set of beliefs that have invaded the culture and lives of Americans are the Christian prophecies. Many people, when faced with the fear of the end of the world, turn to religion for comfort. They feel powerless in the sense that they cannot control their fates, while religion promises that everything is “in God's hands.” Author Daniel Wojcik notes that,
Religious interpretations of apocalypse are appealing precisely because of their insistence that events and history itself are fated, that a controlling and meaningful plan underlies all things... religious apocalyptic beliefs explicitly address feelings of helplessness and uncontrollability, converting them into an optimistic vision of worldly redemption and salvation. (142)
Therefore, because religion promises comfort and a sense that one can actually be spared from the pain of the apocalypse, religious people revolve their lives around behaving certain ways so as to "please" the God that will ultimately save them. Followers of such views are crucial to many evangelical Christians who preach through television, radio, and the internet that the end is imminent. These people congregate on the foundation that destruction of the world is inevitable; they therefore construct their lives to ensure they are among those that are “saved,” while judging others who don't seem to measure up.
For many Christian believers, the guiding factor in their lives is the Christian book of Revelation. There are several apocalypse awareness advocates that turn to this book for explanations for contemporary fears, such as UFOs, AIDs, and nuclear proliferation. The book has also created specific fears itself, including the number 666. For example, Ronald Reagan insisted on changing his address after moving into a house that sported that number. Furthermore, the author of Revelation "condemns any Christian who partakes in the pleasures and rewards of classical civilization at the peak of its enduring achievements in art, letters, and philosophy" (Kirsch 17). The Christian book of Revelation has become a guidebook for not only deeply religious people, but for dignified, high-powered people. Because those who fear the apocalypse need a sense of a comfort and a source for answers, they have let Revelation dictate their lives, even causing strange and outlandish behavior in certain cases. Self-proclaimed prophets, or people claiming that they can communicate with God, have spawned from deep worship of this book; the first documented case was in the year 156 in Asia Minor with a man named Montanus. His followers convinced themselves that the end was near, abandoning pastimes of life such as bearing children, to "meet their maker" (Kirsch 104). The Revelation author has manipulated the fears of people, convincing them that the end is approaching and it is necessary to do all that is possible to prepare and ensure salvation. Many contemporary followers of the book preach against the "ills" of America, including the nation’s rates of violence, homosexuality, drug abuse, divorce, and pornography. They take on the Revelation beliefs and begin to detest everything about the world they live in. Moreover, fear of the apocalypse has not only caused people to obsessively study Revelation, but also to form groups and organizations dedicated to the end of the world.
A well-known American group of people who organized around the Book of Revelation were the "Millerites." In October of 1844, they gathered on hill-tops across the country to welcome the end of the world, which obviously did not arrive. This failed prophecy became known as "The Great Disappointment" (Frykholm 105). This incident shows how quickly apocalyptic ideas can spread as the views of just one man, William Miller, influenced thousands of people, brain-washing them into thinking that on precisely October 22nd, the world would come to an end. Out of fear, these people turned to a man they hardly knew, merely because he said he had the answers. Unfortunately, people like the Millerites still exist today. In the 1990s, a cult, led by the self-proclaimed messiah David Koresh, became well-known when it was involved in a deadly shooting. While persecuting the cult for illegal purchases of weaponry, four agents of the Alcohol Tobacco Firearms were shot by Koresh's followers in Waco, Texas. The Davidians, who spent their lives stockpiling supplies and building bomb shelters, were planning to release an Armageddon (Lamy 159-161). David Koresh's cult proves that religious apocalyptic beliefs can permeate the minds of people to the point where they become dangerous to others. The fact that one person can gain followers just by preaching ideas and answers shows how powerful fear is. Certain people, after exposure to apocalyptic beliefs, feel as if they have nowhere else to go.
Additionally, there are alternative lifestyles that those concerned with the apocalypse choose to take on. Elizabeth Clare Prophet, a woman who preaches apocalyptic thought, has gained followers who have taken on a "survivalist" attitude. These followers aim to survive the period of tribulation, marked by plagues and destruction, to ultimately fight against Satan for Jesus Christ. They believe they can survive if they are spiritually and physically "prepared," thus adopting a Christian survivalist lifestyle (Lamy 5).
In addition to cults and organizations, religious apocalyptic beliefs can be seen in American popular culture. Perhaps the most famous apocalyptic piece of literature is The Late Great Planet Earth, written by Hal Lindsey in the 1970s. In his book, Lindsey describes that biblical prophecies are being fulfilled and the Battle of Armageddon is inevitable. Lindsey's book became the largest-selling American nonfiction book of the decade (Wojcik 37-38). The fact that The Late Great Planet Earth was so popular shows the extent to which apocalyptic notions are potent in American culture. Americans did not know who Hal Lindsey was, yet they were eager to listen to what he had to say. His high-selling book rates prove that it isn't only "nut jobs" who spend their days worrying about the end of time; it is everyday people as well.
Another popular piece of literature that offers themes of the apocalypse is the successful series of novels, Left Behind. These novels trace the last seven years of life on Earth, stressing the importance of rapture, or the belief that "Christ will return to Earth to take believers with him" (Frykholm 13). These novels invoke fright in its readers by explaining that when the world ends, there will be people who aren't saved by Christ. The series begins with a character watching a videotape prepared by Christians before the rapture that describes why certain people have been left behind, claiming that leaving people behind is, "God's final effort to get the attention of every person who has ignored or rejected him" (qtd. in Frykholm 112). This warning, expressed through Left Behind and other means, causes believers to adopt strict religious views and to dedicate their lives to serving God. The popularity of this series shows that these types of people make up a large part of the population, and thus apocalyptic views are more potent than one might believe. In addition to literature, Christian ideas of the apocalypse are seen in film. For example, the 1970s movie The Omen was widely popular; an American diplomat unknowingly adopts the Antichrist and therefore must kill him. Other lesser-known films include Michael Tolkin's The Rapture, The Final Hour, and The Road to Armageddon (Kirsch 229).
Another apocalyptic idea that has been prominent in American culture is the fear of nuclear proliferation. The development of nuclear weapons has greatly affected not only popular culture, but the general attitudes of Americans as well. Many scholars agree that the prospect of a nuclear attack has caused feelings of uncertainty about the future, fears of imminent doom, and a notion that the fate of the world is inescapable. Furthermore, the nuclear age is characterized not by images of human continuity, but images of death, which has thereby affected how people have perceived dying (Wojcik 137). Many like to take comfort in the fact that humans live on even after death, but the threat of a nuclear attack has taken that away from people, replacing their blissful ideas with ones involving being blown up in a matter of seconds. Additionally, the prospect of a nuclear holocaust pushes forth the idea that people cannot be trusted. Rather than an apocalypse being caused by some higher power or divine plan as in religious beliefs, nuclear apocalyptic beliefs suggest that the world will be ended by evil people who launch deadly weapons upon it. Therefore, the nuclear era caused many feelings of animosity towards others, ideas that people and other nations are evil, evidence of a lack of faith in the human population as a whole (Wojcik 140). Nuclear fears have become such a significant part of American culture that it greatly affects how many people perceive the world. These ideas become ingrained in the heads of fearful people and spread extremely quickly. An example of a particular group of people who have become victims of nuclear fear is The Society for Secular Armageddonism, a group dedicated to public awareness about the imminent end of the world. Their hotline received thousands of calls within just a couple of months by frightened people unsure of where to turn. People have becoming terrified because, "Since the development of nuclear weapons, a sense of profound anxiety and uncertainty has existed in American society about a future in which nuclear warfare is a possibility" (Wojcik 99). This apprehensiveness has resulted in some people turning to ways to "prepare" for this nuclear apocalypse.
Those who followed Elizabeth Clare Prophet, identified themselves as survivalists. These survivalists perform acts such as stockpiling food and weapons and practicing survival strategies. In the 1970s, survivalist literature began to emerge, which urged citizens to take action to protect their lives. The literature warned against certain plagues, such as drugs, crime, serial killers, and AIDs, while also focusing on the prospect of nuclear warfare (Lamy 70-71). Additionally, in the 1950s and 1960s, fearful families all over America built fallout shelters in their backyards after being encouraged by the U.S. government (Wojcik 104). People spent countless hours creating underground housing just because nuclear war was a possibility. The reason that survivalism is so appealing is because it gives Americans a sense of control. They feel as if a nuclear war is inevitable and that the planet is doomed, but by extensive preparation, they can be among the survivors.
Aside from affecting peoples' personal lives and attitudes, the nuclear era brought on an entire change in popular culture. After the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, many "atomic" goods and businesses arose. Bartenders served "Atomic Cocktails" and department stores advertised "Atomic Sales" (Wojcik 102). Everyone had apprehensions about the world ending through a nuclear attack, and therefore the one worry that was on the mind of every American shone through in the culture. Many nuclear themes were being seen in literature, such as in the popular books On the Beach by Nevil Shute, which revolves around the survivors of a nuclear war, and Fail Safe by Eugene Burdick and Harvey Wheeler, in which a mechanical error send a group of U.S. Bombers towards the Soviet Union. Other pieces of literature had apocalyptic themes as well, such as Ray Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles and Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five (Wojcik 106-107). The themes in these popular novels reflect the apocalyptic ideas that pervaded the minds of Americans. In addition to literature, nuclear fears were also exemplified in film. The two most popular movies are On the Beach and Dr. Strangelove, both of which deal with nuclear attacks. Other movies were made that centered around nuclear bombs creating mutants or beasts, such as Attack of the Crab Monsters and It Came From Beneath the Sea (Wojcik 109-110). Whether through fearful themes or gory monsters, filmmakers played on American fear and anxiety during this time, depicting anything nuclear as negative and harmful. And yet despite the fact that the end of the world distressed Americans, these movies and books were very popular. The popularity can perhaps be attributed to the fact that seeing films and reading literature on nuclear invasions gave people a sense on control, providing them with a sense that they knew what to expect, or it is possible that Americans simply enjoyed facing their fears, both on the pages and on the silver screen.
In addition to Christian prophecies and the prospect of a nuclear attack, fear of UFO invasions greatly infiltrated the minds of Americans and popular culture. Ever since the first UFO sighting occurred in 1947, the alien movement has become one of global proportions. Ideas of martians spread throughout the American people extremely fast. By the end of 1947, one sighting had turned into eight hundred. Even today, beliefs in UFOs are still prominent, with polls revealing that about 50% of North Americans believe they exist (Wojcik 176). Some people take their UFO beliefs to radical points, such as the UFO doomsday cult, Heaven's Gate. In 1997, thirty-nine members of Heaven's Gate killed themselves through the use of poison. These brainwashed cult members regarded the world as evil and doomed (Wojcik 181). Similar to Heaven's Gate, there are several other UFO groups that warn of the imminence of worldly catastrophe, one being the Aetherius Society, which believes disaster can be averted through prayer and other spiritual practices (Wojcik 187).
Fear is extremely powerful; it can cause people to be absolutely terrified of an idea that has not been officially proved to exist so much so that they either commit suicide or dedicate their lives to "surviving." Since extra terrestrials are always depicted as being smarter than us, Americans assume that if a UFO invasion were to occur, the aliens would easily win. Therefore, anxious people join cults because the leaders claim they have all the answers. In addition to cults, UFO fears are seen in books and movies as well, often being compared to other views of the apocalypse. For example, many people reported alien sightings near nuclear power plants. In the film The Day the Earth Stood Still, an alien lands near the White House to warn of the threat of atomic bombs (Wojcik 178). Furthermore, many people claim to re-interpret biblical passages within the framework of UFO ideas, relating the flying saucer phenomenon to Christian beliefs. Some believe that Adam and Eve were actually extraterrestrials and angels are space beings. These beliefs have fueled the writing of books such as The Bible and Flying Saucers and God Drives a Flying Saucer. These types of books preach that God was an astronaut, and it was actually UFOs that parted the Red Sea (Wojcik 185). For many people, the Bible is sacred and is the final word on everyday life. The fact that UFOs actually caused people to reinterpret this sacred text exemplifies how potent alien beliefs are in American culture.
Cults, organizations, books, movies, and films about the apocalypse would not be as popular as they are if Americans were not so fascinated with the end of the world. The question is, where exactly do these beliefs come from? Many people interpret apocalyptic movements as responses to societal crises (Wojcik 133). For example, the detonation of the first atomic bomb started a chain reaction of intense fear and anxiety towards the prospect of nuclear war. An unexpected and jarring event can cause a shift in peoples' lives; suddenly they are not as safe as they thought they were, and they begin to worry, wondering what it would be like if the world actually did end. Thus, people begin to experience feelings of helplessness. Those who hold fatalistic beliefs feel as if they cannot stop the world ending and therefore feel powerless. They become aware of the external locus of control, or the notion that events are caused by forces outside of one's control (Wojcik 135). This ultimately spawns feelings of apprehensiveness and fear. The prospect of the apocalypse implies that people might not have any control over how and when they die. A person could spend years eating vegetables, exercising, taking vitamins, and practicing caution in everyday life, but all of that will not matter if the world ends tomorrow. This possibility both fascinates and terrifies people to the point where some let it guide their lives, as in the instance of cults and survivalists. Many people hold apocalyptic beliefs because they feel that if they cannot control the fate of the world, they can at least learn about how it might end. Thus, "apocalyptic beliefs provide individuals with a sense of empowerment" (Wojcik 144). They replace fear with information, and in some cases, membership in a group that promises salvation. And thus, people feel as if their lives have taken on a renewed importance.
Apocalyptic ideas have had an enormous impact on both the lives of people and American culture. Through cults, organizations, literature, film, and the everyday attitudes of Americans it is seen that apocalyptic thought is everywhere. The prospect of the end of the world terrifies people to the point where they feel helpless and thus adopt certain beliefs in order to gain some control. It is acceptable to wonder about when it will all end, but the importance lies in avoiding letting these thoughts dictate our lives, which is difficult because apocalyptic ideals are extremely powerful. In being constantly bombarded with "end of the world" pop culture, a person cannot help but wonder if the apocalypse is near. However, if caution is not exercised, one might harmlessly pick up a pamphlet on the apocalypse and find himself months later in a mansion in San Diego, wearing Nike tennis shoes, and eating poisoned applesauce in a cult that preaches the inevitability of the end.
Frykholm, Amy Johnson. Rapture Culture. New York: Oxford University
Kirsch, Jonathan. A History of the End of the World: How the Most
Controversial Book in the Bible Changed the Course of Western
Civilization. New York: HarperCollins, 2006.
Lamy, Philip. Millennium Rage. New York: Plenum Press, 1996.
Wojcik, Daniel. The End of the World As We Know It. New York: New
York University Press, 1997.
Ceremonies Across Time
Despite being a harsh and arid landscape, the Southwest contains some of the most culturally rich Native tribes in the United States. The Hopi have lived in this area for several thousand years and have a long history of ceremony playing a central role in their everyday lives. From painted pottery to handmade dolls, the Hopi have a rich history that has fascinated outsiders for generations. Many anthropologists have studied these people in order to better understand how geography, oral tradition and culture have affected their lives over time. Even though these reports shed light on the cultural traditions of the Hopi, little to nothing is written from the perspective of the participant or tribal member. Leslie Marmon Silko paints a portrait of Hopi culture through the eyes of a tribal member in her novel Ceremony.
Silko gives the reader a chance to experience life in a Hopi pueblo village through the eyes of Tayo, a half Hopi, half white tribal member, who has recently returned home after serving in the Phillipines during World War II. Since returning home, Tayo has become mentally unstable after witnessing the horrors of combat overseas, and his constant nightmares and uncontrolled vomiting only compound his troubles. His grandmother decides to contact “Old Ku’oosh” (a Shaman) to help alleviate Tayo’s illness. Shamans played a crucial role in Hopi society, and although little record of them is mentioned in the 19th and 20th centuries, it would be likely that several would have applied their trade at the time the novel is set. Hopi Shamans fell into three distinct categories: Secular Healers (who were experts in setting broken bones and preparing medicinal herbs), Curing Specialists (who used pharmacopeia and massage techniques), and Supernatural Shamans. In addition to performing various ceremonies throughout the year, Shamans also performed supernatural rituals in order to “cure” individuals from witchcraft (Oswalt 318).
Another aspect of Hopi culture Silko shows throughout her novel is that of the Hopi kinship structure. When his mother decides that she is no longer able to take care of Tayo, she leaves him in the custody of his aunt and uncle, who also give shelter to his grandmother and his stepbrother Rocky. In Hopi culture, descent and kinship is Matrilineal and Matrilocal. Matrilineal descent indicates that families trace their family’s lineage along female lines. Matrilocal kinship indicates that when a bride and groom are married, the male moves in with his in-laws (his wife’s family) (Oswalt 314). This further lends credence to the reasons why Tayo’s aunt appears as such a strong character throughout the novel as an authority figure in her stepson’s life. In addition to being the main players in the household, women also owned and controlled the land inherited from their families. The men would cultivate the land of their own “Matriline” until married, when they would begin to cultivate the land belonging to their wife (Oswalt 312).
Tayo’s living situation also echoes the social dimensions of “The Household” in Hopi culture. A traditional Hopi household consisted of a nucleus of women (daughters, grandmother, daughter’s daughters etc) and in-marrying husbands and un-married sons (like Tayo). All inhabitants of the household (except husbands) belonged to the same “Matriclan” (Oswalt 314). When the household became too crowded, a room was added onto the existing pueblo (a clay brick structure) to accommodate new members (Oswalt 315). When Tayo’s mother runs off with another man, she leaves Tayo with her sister. After his mother left him, Tayo (then an infant) remained permanently under the protection of his aunt and grandmother. For the Hopi, this pattern of child rearing was common.
Marriage and custom play a key role in the novel as well. Silko delves deeper into Tayo’s personal life and explains the origin of his birth. Tayo’s mother, “Little Sister,” created a reputation for herself amongst the people in her village as someone who disregarded all normal Hopi social norms. Little Sister’s drinking habits and the birth of her half native, half white son, Tayo, made her and her family social outcasts within village.
Drinking was traditionally unacceptable by the Hopi, but in the aftermath of World War II, some Hopi veterans began to take up the habit of drinking and it became increasingly popular to get drunk (Oswalt 332). Tayo reflects on this growing trend when he returns home from the Philippines. One section in particular describes how he and his “fellow” Hopis reflect on their wartime experiences while getting drunk at a local bar. At the bar, Tayo gets extremely upset at Emo (a Hopi war veteran) over issues concerning the treatment of the enemy. A drunken brawl soon ensues between the two men, and Tayo is almost arrested.
To conservative Hopi, marriage and birth followed strict guidelines. When Hopi offspring reached their teenage years, they were allowed to enter into pre-marital sexual relations. Boys would sleep in Kivas; where ceremonies and religious rights were held, and were free to wander through the town at night wrapped in a blanket (to better disguise their identities). They would then sneak into the household of the person they admired, and whisper who they were to the young female. If the female agreed, the boy would spend the night with her and leave shortly before morning. This formal procedure of sexual relations was known as the Dumaiya (Oswalt 323). If a girl slept with more than one boy, as often was the case, and became pregnant, she named the boy whom she liked best as the father and plans for a marriage were soon drawn up. However, strict rules guided who was and was not allowed to marry. For example, a member could not marry within her own clan or within her father’s clan (cross-cousin marriage) (Oswalt 324). During the time period in which the novel is set, however, much of the ceremony and formality that existed in earlier wedding ceremonies had vanished. Starting in the 1930s, stigma over documentation and dealing with whites caused women to have official American civil or religious ceremonies (Oswalt 332).
Even though this novel was set after the Hopi were “modernized,” there still existed a split between “conservative” Hopi, who embraced traditional religious and cultural values and “progressive” Hopi, who were converted to Christianity and thought that the life offered to them by Anglo-Americans gave them better opportunities. This split reached its climax in 1906 in the town of Oraibi, when Conservatives and Progressives openly clashed. It was pre-determined that the losers would have to leave Oraibi forever. The Conservatives lost the conflict and founded a new village, “Hotevilla,” several miles north of Oraibi (Oswalt 330).
This conservatism is represented throughout in Tayo’s family members (especially his aunt), who do not see Tayo as a true member of the matriline, but a half white, half Indian intruder. But while his aunt ignores Tayo’s basic needs, she overindulges her full blood Indian son, Rocky. Old Grandma is also conservative in that when Tayo becomes ill, she decides to call on a Shaman instead of a doctor as Tayo requests. The relationship between Old Grandma and Tayo also shows how generation gaps can affect how Native Americans perceive their culture. Having grown up during a period when the United States Government was controlling almost every aspect of Hopi life, and constantly being haunted by his experiences of World War II, it is not hard to see why Tayo is somewhat reluctant to absorb the culture of his Hopi heritage.
In the late 1940s, over four thousand Hopi were living in fourteen settlements. This increase in population caused an even larger increase in soil erosion (Oswalt 330). Because of this, the Federal government began to push for the herding of livestock as an option to destructive cultivation. This switch of subsistence is reflected in Ceremony when Tayo’s uncle Josiah decides to raise Mexican cattle bred with Herefords. When the cattle are unloaded from the truck, Tayo and Josiah must chase after them to keep a track of their movements. With little grass in the area, the cattle are quick to move south to better grazing land. The Navajo, frequent raiders of the Hopi, turned to sheep herding after the Spanish entered the Southwest in the 1540s and were better at maintaining livestock than the Hopi who only had experience cultivating the land. This explains why Tayo and Josiah only go by the hearsay of “Nightswan” (Josiah’s mistress) for advice on what cattle should be used.
As an anthropology minor, I found the novel fascinating, in that it blends cultural traditions of a specific Native American group with good story telling. Anthropology students are often subjected to reading dry cultural outlines written by studious observers of a particular tribe, who are more than able to record every piece of information, ranging from traditional ceremonies to the most mundane task; these academics are often unable to comprehend the perspective of the participant about what a specific ceremony or task represents, physically, emotionally and mentally. Ceremony is a breath of fresh air: the author records details of everyday Hopi life and culture through the eyes of a tribal member. The fact that Leslie Marmon Silko is also a member of the Hopi tribe lends credence to some of the more specific events taking place throughout the novel, as well as puts a human face to the ceremonies and activities represented in the piece.
Oswalt Wendell H. This Land Was Theirs. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006.
Silko, Leslie Marmon. Ceremony. New York: Penguin Group, 1986.
We see history--we reshape and reframe history--in terms of our own experience. And in turn, we use this to build not only our own identity, but the identity of our family, our race, our community, and our class. Thus we define our place as Americans.
As kindergarteners, we all remember re-enacting the Thanksgiving feast. The Indians and Pilgrims sit down to a meal after a long winter, symbolizing the unity of different cultures found in the New World. Unfortunately, this re-enactment of the Thanksgiving feast is historically inaccurate, and in reality "re-enactment and storytelling can have a dark, difficult and disturbing side" (Strickland 49). While the Kindergarten Thanksgiving feast can be deceptive, it is unfair to classify all historical re-enactments as negative since many people feel the exact opposite and strive to perform historical events as accurately as possible. Unlike the less-than-flattering relationship with Native Americans, many people want to preserve the truth about our American history, including the Civil War.
According to Dennis Hall, "The Civil War was the most important event in American history." Passion for the Civil War can be found anywhere. It has appeared in American popular culture, organizations, and even auctions. Starting as recently as the 1950s, Civil War re-enactment has grown so that an estimated thirty thousand men and women now create an atmosphere of realism (Hall 7). It was the 1960 centennial of the Civil War that significantly increased public awareness and then sparked interest among more Americans to remember this important event in history (Turner 123). Civil War re-enactors play a major role in American cultural activity and, above all, work hard to honor this important historical event without romanticizing it (Hall 7). This activity has roots in an almost worldwide human need to recall the past (Turner 123). When people first began participating in Civil War re-enactments, battles were commemorated by military veterans who would pull out their gear and re-enact the battles so Americans would not forget the sacrifices made by the soldiers (Turner 123). Since that time, civilians from America as well as other countries have gotten involved in elaborate restagings of famous Civil War battles.
It is obvious each re-enactment is different, because there are different battles, weather conditions, sites, people, and purposes for each re-enactment. However, the weekend-long events have the same basic layout: there is a camp area, a battle area, and a spectator area (Turner 124). The New York Times reported "it is a passion that leads thousands of people to spend most of their weekends slogging through mud, living in tents, wearing uniforms and simulating battles of war" (Appleborne).The objective of the re-enactments becomes deeply treasured signs of identity (Turner 126). Re-enactors have created a "bloodless war," a war wherein they have a good time and are able to learn about themselves and their history as Americans. This "bloodless war" becomes a place where re-enactors can move away from their everyday lives by becoming someone else (Turner 134). Not only is this a learning experience for the audience, but for the re-enactors as well.
Dan Turano of New Jersey is an Army veteran with a particular interest in the Civil War. He said he got involved in re-enactments through a friend in the Army Reserves. It is interesting to note that Dan is not involved in any battle scenes, “since after 27 years and plus in the United States Army, the idea of standing across field and shooting at someone never really appealed to [him].” The best part of re-enacting for Dan is teaching children about the Civil War. He loves it when he can answer questions that teachers cannot. The most rewarding part is “honoring the dead by teaching the living on the actual battlefield” (Turano).
Dan Turano is one of many who participate in re-enacting the Civil War here in America. But many would be surprised to learn that the second largest society of re-enactors of the American Civil War and "best large re-enactment group in the UK" is the American Civil War Society (ACWS) located in England (Hunt 389). It was founded in 1975 and is based in Northern England (Hunt 389-90). Ironically, the English did not help Americans fight the Civil War, but it is the English who are involved in re-enacting the Civil War now, so that Civil War re-enactments are acknowledged as "serious leisure" pursuits and "living history" lessons both in England as well as in America (Hunt 390).
The idea of accuracy and living history has been translated in the media as well. In 1989, the movie Glory debuted in the United States ("Glory"). It portrayed the first African American troop, the 54th Massachusetts, who fought in the Civil War, and raised awareness among all Americans about the important roles played by these people. Recent events, including the release of Glory, have caused the interest in re-enactment among African Americans to grow (Appleborne). In a New York Times interview, Darryl Battle, a black Civil War re-enactor, said, "Re-enactments are not about hatred. They're about history, honor, [and] bravery" (qtd. in Appleborne). Obviously, blacks feel the same need as white people to reconnect with their ancestors and participating in re-enactments gives them this opportunity. It is also interesting to note that re-enactors served as extras and approved of the authenticity during the making of the movie Glory (Hall 7).
Authenticity is very important to re-enactors, and is understood that authenticity is "experience" (Hunt 389). Clearly, only authentic objects and artifacts of the time are allowed in the streets during re-enactment (Hunt 391). Numerous items from the Civil War periods have survived, but the items that have not are reproduced as accurately as possible. This is difficult because the machines used to make these items are very different today than they were in the 1860s. One American weaver and tailor from Ohio, however, has perfected the Civil War uniform reproduction system down to an exact science. It can cost up to $200 depending on the uniform (Elliot-Wright 96-97). By re-enacting the Civil War, the men and women experience "what they call 'time warps'-moments when the 'as if' of re-enacting becomes 'this is'” (Turner 126). It is at that point each re-enactor realizes this type of knowledge is only gained by re-enacting/living through it (Turner 126).
Not only are re-enactors occupied with attaining items which are made accurately, but they also are aware of the details of the daily lives of soldiers in war time. Re-enactors work on their bodies as much as their props. The past reemerges through physical and physiological experience, such as fear, homesickness, and starvation (Agnew 330). For example, re-enactors starve themselves to get into character, as an actor or actress would for a role in a movie; however, it is more important than that. They are becoming someone real, not a fictional character. Because re-enactors are not getting paid, the audience understands the dedication these men and women have to American history.
According to Stephen Hunt, involvement in Civil War re-enactments is an important part of "identity construction in the context of 'serious leisure'" (399). Leisure is when someone has time free from work or other duties. Leisure is an "important site of meaning and a significant element in making and re-making identity" (Hunt 399). Re-enactors may not begin with much knowledge of the Civil War, but, in the process of re-enacting they find out who their ancestors were (Hunt 399). In addition, those who participate and interpret the past bring their own outlook, attitudes and values to the field (Hunt 400). Often their level of dedication is beyond a hobby; it is serious.
Re-enacting is not just about playing soldiers and shooting at each other. Rather, it is about knowing and understanding American history. There are many reasons why people like to reenact battles, but one of the main reasons is because they are putting on a different persona, to get away from everyday life and become someone else. Some argue that re-enacting should not only be considered a hobby. Re-enactors go further, and point out that it is our job as Americans to remember the fallen soldiers of our past. In doing so, we find out who we are as Americans today.
Agnew, Vanessa. “Introduction: What Is Re-enactment?” Criticism. 46 (summer 2004):327-339. ProQuest Research Library. ProQuest. Sojourner Truth Library, State University of New York at New Paltz. 12 February 2007 .
Appleborne, Peter. “Remarkably, Din of Civil War is Growing Louder.” The New York Times. 22 April 1990: 22. Historical Newspapers. ProQuest. Sojourner Truth Library, State University of New York at New Paltz. 12 February 2007 .
Elliot-Wright, Philipp J.C. Living History. London: Brassey’s, 2000.
"Glory." Earth Biggest Movie Database. 28 April 2007