Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Grapes of Wrath -- "Self-Preservation" Critical Response

November 17, 2010

The novel The Grapes of Wrath has a strong underlined message regarding self-preservation and benefits and/or consequences that can occur as a result of the action. Through plot progression and numerous forms of character development, author John Steinbeck strives to make a point that actions based on the needs and well-being of a single individual cannot go unheeded without misfortune following closely behind. Alongside this thought, Steinbeck also brings forth the idea that choices and deeds based on sustaining the interests of a group are more likely to promote prosperity and success.

The idea of individuals facing hardship as a result of their own selfish doing can be related from Steinbeck’s words directly to the everyday individual in real-life society. Through portraying images that can be conveyed to the novel’s readers, the author brings forth a way of trying to interpret that the thought that selfishness will only set back the everyday individual when it comes to success. For example, Rose of Sharon was a prime example throughout the novel as a character that faced misfortune after misfortune from her own selfishness. Throughout the Joad family’s journey to California, Rose of Sharon was completely absorbed in the well-being of her and her unborn child, which restricted her from contributing to the group’s needs for survival. Time and time again throughout the progression of the plot, many of the setbacks that occur for the family have a direct relation to Rose of Sharon’s individual situation, such as Connie Rivers’ departure or her baby being conceived as a stillborn. Upon reaching the final chapter of the novel, after basically losing everything she once had besides her family, Rose of Sharon was presented an opportunity to redeem herself for her actions, providing sustenance for a man about to perish from starvation, and ultimately changing how readers view her from a spoiled, selfish perception to one of a more giving figure.

Alongside Rose of Sharon’s endeavors, the consequences for selfishness were also portrayed through how people acted in the camps throughout California where the migrants thrived and lived collectively. In the establishments, power was given to the Okies, allowing for them to create their own system of governing and control. Through this, an organized method of cooperation was established to create a form a society where everybody worked together to help provide the needs of everyone, instead of simply the needs of the few. As a consequence, anybody taking action strictly to preserve their own well-being without assisting the well-being of others would face ejection from the camp they are residing in, as well as being ostracized from all of the other camp communities in California. This drastic case of action is a strong example of Steinbeck using the setting and plot of the novel to represent his belief of individualism and the negative repercussions that arise because of it. Having such an over-the-top course of action to punish those who were responsible for going against the beliefs of the majority of the novel’s characters shows just how loyal the author is to his own beliefs, as well as his opinions on judgment for those who decide against those beliefs in a drastic situation.

Given the circumstance of the Joads, and all other Okies for that matter, it is not surprising for an individual in The Grapes of Wrath to be tempted with the option to merely look out for oneself.  The external struggle of having the option to ignore surrounding members of society to benefit only a given individual creates an internal struggle that is difficult to resolve, in fiction or in truth, regardless of if selfishness is handled in an easier fashion. Though it is assumed to be the simpler solution to simply fix your own troubles rather than the troubles of everybody around you, bad luck will most likely follow closely behind if you neglect the others who live among you. Steinbeck uses Rose of Sharon and the California camps as a way to explain to readers that we must work collectively as a group if we want to experience the greatest possible benefit in our own situations. Although it is fair to say that individualism and collectivism, when alone, have their own unique positive and negative values, the author believes that our responsibilities are best handled together if we want to achieve the greatest form of prosperity available.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Personal Response -- 'Pinocchio'

November 12, 2010

When a puppeteer performs his craft, the illusion of the marionette having free will and control is perceived. In modern day society, many individuals can easily play the role of the unknowing puppet, completely under the presumption that their lives and actions are guided by their own hand. However, in many of those cases, what seems to be the truth is not justly so.
Keith Carter’s “Pinocchio” displays the puppet as a force of its own, unaware of the faded controller following closely behind. With this concept being implied, the doll believes it has a will of his own to carefully do whatever he pleases, even though his actions are carefully being monitored and subtly guided by the puppeteer. Many examples of the very same situation can be examined and acknowledged in our everyday lives. For example, young children roam freely and relentlessly, trying to explore and gain as much experience in the world as humanly possible, given their situation. However, these boundaries are restricted when a child’s parents are straggling closely behind to ensure that he/she is guided in the safest direction. Given any circumstance, child, puppet or anybody else, an individual’s urge to promote their own well-being always has the ability to be hindered by internal or external demands.
In such a situation as Pinocchio, there is no internal struggle, seeing as the puppet believes it has all the control it wants. However, bringing the truth into play, it can be seen that the puppet master is responsible for a great deal of external conflict, seeing as he knows the truth about who really has the control. The figure that is actually in control of the puppet is the one pulling the ‘strings’, ensuring that the pawn never actually has the ability to pursue personal well-being without the approval and action of the master.
In my own personal experience, I have also seen people I have known blindly move forward with their own self-benefit as their intent, only to eventually realize that the control they believed to have was only there because it was allowed by somebody else. Years ago, a friend of mine by the name of Tyller had dealt with his parents for the last time. He was completely opposed to the rules they had laid out for him, and he wanted out of that kind of lifestyle. After thinking everything through, he had decided to leave home and start living away from his family, bringing him a newfound sense of freedom. Tyller packed up all the things he thought he’d need to manage away from home, and left. Being only thirteen years old, he didn’t have many places to stay or much of a sense of direction regarding where to do. Making due, Tyller managed to last away from home for numerous days, staying the night at friends’ houses and surviving off of the money he had saved since he was young. After running out of places to stay, he decided he was going to leave town. Having no vehicle or mode of transportation other than his legs, the young boy asked one of his friends’ parents for a ride to a nearby town. The father of the family agreed, which surprised Tyller, on the condition that he would stay for supper. Acknowledged as a simple request, Tyller easily agreed. Shortly after the meal, he was asked to make his way outside to wait for when the parent was ready. Upon opening the front door to the house, Tyller saw his parents parked in their own vehicle right outside the house. He later found out that his parents knew of his ideals, and had been keeping tabs on him ever since the first night, thanks to the guardians of each friend along the way. Tyller thought he had all the control in the world, however, the truth was quite the opposite.
Knowing if the power of control is truthfully your own is a difficult thing to figure out. In most, if not all cases, there are always strings being pulled to try and guide you upon the path of someone else’s preference, and it is your will alone that has the sheer strength to combat it. Though you may not come out victorious, or you may end up merely thinking you are victorious, human nature does not simply allow us to lie down and face the music.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Ghost of Tom Joad

                Creating a song can be extremely similar to the overall life of a human being, depending on the direction that the song takes. For either situation, it takes immense amounts of time and patience to carefully forge together the intended experience, complete with endless forms of emotion and perspectives to amplify the level of understanding experienced by anyone affected. In the multiple renditions of the song ‘The Ghost of Tom Joad’, different artists provide the lyrics a different mood and tempo to portray a unique portion of the emotion that the Joad family experienced in ‘The Grapes of Wrath’. From the depressing and mournful version that Bruce Springsteen brings forth to the aggressive and relentless interpretation by Rage Against the Machine, completely different versions of the song were created. However, each of those versions on their own lack the whole personal experience; the emotion displayed by each song is one-sided, either showing all sadness and loss, or only hatred and fury. A third variation, though, created by Springsteen and Rage Against the Machine’s lead guitarist Tom Morello, harmonizes the combination of the two artists’ perspectives, creating a song that provides an ultimately more personal experience to any of the listeners than the other two variations. Not only is there sorrow and loss from Springsteen’s perspective, as well as anger and passion from Rage Against the Machine, but an underlying sense of uplifting hope can be brought forward and appreciated by anybody willing to listen.

     Springsteen and Morello’s version begins with a slow tempo and softer instrumentals, focusing more on the lyrics to provide an image for the listener. Similar to the beginning chapters of the novel, the song tries to portray the image of a desolate wasteland, where the farmers have lost all hopes of retaining their crops and keeping possession of their land. Described as the “new world order”, the lifestyle that the Okies once knew has ended, and now they must adapt and change in order to survive. However, such action is not done easily, for the difficulty of packing up an entire lifetime and moving forward to simply start again is far from a simple process. With no home and nowhere else to go, the Okies experience a sense of grief and sadness for the life that has been coercively tossed aside. Despite the instrumentals not being as strong as the lyrics, they still manage to amplify the melancholy sensation being expressed. In Springsteen’s solo version, the harmonica was used to create more of the blues-type mood; however it was replaced by violins in the duet, which still manages to convey the blues message well. Such feeling can also be compared to the sense of despair and loss that the Joads faced regarding death, though the lyrics of the song focus more along the lines of the loss of their home instead. The song and novel alike, however, bring forth these perceptions early, leaving room later on for different tones to be conveyed.

                As the melody progresses, the lyrical tone becomes rawer and empowered. Even more uniquely, Tom Morello takes a turn at singing, bringing newly found energy to the verses and chorus. With such lines as “the highway is alive tonight”, the listeners are able to indulge in the concept of being strengthened and driven by the music, almost to provide a form of hope and salvation from the misfortune of the introduction. Alongside the lyrics, the guitar playing increases in fierceness, as if to symbolize the rising action in the song. With lead guitar riffs and even guitar solos, Springsteen and Morello attempt to connect to the audience and bring interest, as well as to share the feelings being experienced by the musicians. No longer is the tempo of the song relaxed and mellow, but instead, the pace has increased in speed, allowing for more vigour to be brought forward. All of these factors can represent the revitalization of the characters in the novel, and as the Joads find new ways to overcome their obstacles and find hope once again, the reading or listening audience can do the very same. Also, having the two artists joining together and becoming a combined force can be interpreted as a form of power and unity, similar to the Joads when they began to encounter other Okies on their way to California, and even upon reaching California’s Weedpatch government camp. “Wherever somebody’s strugglin’ to be free”, there were always forms of optimism to keep the Joad family going on their journey to California, and the two musicians captured the essence and message of that portion of the novel masterfully.

                Whether it was crushing depression or fortifying empowerment being brought forth by musical inspiration, each unique emotion is a small portion of the whole human experience that both fictional and non-fictional individuals undergo on a day-to-day basis. Each individual artist with their own personal views created a well-sculpted version of The Ghost of Tom Joad, though each rendition feels almost too one-sided and closed off to the rest of the emotions that the Joads experience on their journey. However, when the two contrasting views came together in a single song, a richer experience was created. Not only was there sadness and frustration, but in working together, a new form of exhilaration and certainty to allow their viewing audience to connect all the more to an insightful form of musical art.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Focus Question #1 Assignment
Brandon Langrock
November 8th, 2010

                In society, we are brought together by our sets of beliefs and values that we share with others. However, in many cases, people can disagree due to varying beliefs and ways of life. In the two example sources we have been given, various levels of dedication to Collectivism, a system reliant on society as a group working together to sustain the entire group, as well as levels of Individualism, a system focused on promoting the needs of the individual and working alone, rather than working together to better the majority. Through these beliefs, both sources have also developed opinions about the system of Classical Liberalism, and whether they think it would be more beneficial to take a similar route, or whether it would be more productive to stray away from such a concept.
                The first source, written by an Inuit elder, describes the importance of working together and trying to provide equal standards for all. She believes strongly in the sense of community, and is disappointed with how the present-time communities have taken a more distant approach to the concept of the group. For example, the elder stated, “They had strong friendships and helped each other out in hard times.”, pointing out the Collectivism notion of cooperation, showing that she thought the needs of the group were more important than the needs of the individual. The elder then went on to compliment the ideal of Economic Equality, where it is believed that all people should share in a country’s wealth. “People shared food, even if they didn’t have much …” the Elder declared. The Inuit tribe described worked together as a single driving force to ensure that the entire tribe’s interests and needs were being met. “Before this community had so many people, we were all very close and helped each other in times of need.” she said, which can easily be directed to the principle of Collective Interests, where a similar interest, such as food or survival, can bring a group closer together to make certain that the group would make it through.

“The problem today is that there are too many people in the communities and a lot of them are too self-centered and involved with their own problems to help others.”
-          Mary Anulik Kutsiq, “An Elder offers advice”
Alongside speaking of the benefits of working together, Mary also speaks of the negative aspects of individual motives, which can be related to the principles of Classical Liberalism. “As the population grows, so does the gap between people. We are no longer one big family.” When the Elder tries to bring forward the thoughts of a much more distant community, she emphasizes the negative aspect of concepts such as Self-Interest, where the decisions made by people are based on the benefit and well-being of the individual, rather than the group as a whole. Also, through saying “Today, some people have so much while others have so little and do not bother to share at all.”, Mary emphasizes the fact that Economic Freedom, where people have the right to try and benefit individually in the economy, is a given right than throws society into an unbalanced mess. Easily, it can be said that this Inuit elder believes strongly in the group working together and achieving their goals as a team to further accomplish anything that is thrown their way.
The second source is a political cartoon in which a businessman is speaking to a beggar, portrayed as a bear. “In my day, bears worked for their honey”, he said to the bear. Through that statement alone, it is fair to say that the businessman is promoting the concept of Individualism, simply because he is describing how people, or bears, worked to sustain their own lives for themselves, rather than having a group to fall back on. Self-Interest is implied when he states that people were meant to look out for themselves, and it is also portrayed from how the businessman is not offering any ‘honey’ to the bear, despite the fact that he is most likely better off financially than the bear. Alongside Self-Interest, Economic Freedom can also be expressed from this cartoon, due to the fact that not everybody is wealthy. The businessman has worked hard to sustain the money and lifestyle for himself, and the whole society is not benefitting from his course of action to profit economically. Though it is not directly mentioned, it can also be implied that there is a sense of competition between the man and the bear, simply because the bear could be a potential threat to the man economically, if he were to be in the same field of business. The choice of portraying the beggar as an animal can also imply the fact that the working class businessman is of a different species than the bear, stating that the working class and the groups in financial deficit are of a different breed.
Seeing as the principles of Individualism and Classical Liberalism are very similar, it is reasonable to say that the businessman’s words are very supportive of Classical Liberalism as well. Overall, the cartoon is trying to express the fact that the needs of the individual should outweigh the needs of the group, and it also promotes the thought that everybody should simply be looking out for themselves. When the businessman looks at the bear, he does not think of the bear as a fellow member of his society, but instead, he believes that the bear is not of the same type of being, eliminating the sense of society working together, as well as the sense of equality.
Though the two sources have very dissimilar views on society, they both believe strongly in the idea of a hard day’s work. They both understand that, regardless of if they are in a group or alone, people need to work hard to try and benefit themselves. Through different lifestyles, these people have grown into different sets of beliefs and values that have ultimately shaped their opinions on how a society should be ran. In a sense, despite having similar customs and systematic beliefs, these two sources express a concept of simply wanting prosperity for the target of their kind of system.