Friday, May 29, 2009


Telemoonfa's Note: This version was updated on June 25th, 2009. This is the version that was produced as a staged reading at a community theatre in Flagstaff. It will also be published in Thin Air Magazine, the literary magazine of Northern Arizona University, which should come out this fall.

A young American couple’s apartment. Mormon paraphernalia lightly decorates the home. EMMA and HYRUM play Scrabble.

EMMA closes a laptop computer while HYRUM puts down a word and adds up points.

HYRUM: Emma, why’d you turn the computer off?

EMMA: I don’t know, Hyrum. I just get tired of it being on all the time. Why, did you want to use it for something?


EMMA: Do you have homework tonight that you have to do on the computer?

HYRUM: No. I’m actually all caught up on school for once. Oh wait, no, I think I do have some homework to finish.

EMMA: Anatomy?

HYRUM: No, math. But it can wait at least a day or two. It doesn’t really matter. It’s just that we usually leave the computer on. Remember that it takes more electricity-

EMMA: More electricity to turn it off and on all the time than it does to leave it on. Yes I know. You say that every time I turn the computer off.

HYRUM: Well I say it a lot because it’s true. I pay for the electricity. What do you think I work at the bank for, on top of going to night school?

EMMA: Thank you for providing.

HYRUM: I’m just looking out for our finances, that’s all. And the electricity bill keeps going up every month. I just got the electric bill in the mail today, actually. You know how much it is?

EMMA: No I sure don’t.

HYRUM: It’s one hundred and two dollars and seventy two cents. That’s about twenty dollars more than it was last month. But we don’t have to talk about money. I know you don’t like talking about money. It’s your turn.

EMMA: I know.

HYRUM: You’re taking a while for your turn, sweetheart.

EMMA: Don’t pressure me.

HYRUM: So are you going to hurry it up a bit?

EMMA: I can take as long as I want.

HYRUM: Well yeah, but remember we agreed that the game is more fun if we go faster? Do you want me to go get the chess clock again?

EMMA: No. You know I hate the chess clock. That thing stresses me out. Just hold on. There. L-O-V-E. Love. Isn’t that a nice word? Love.

HYRUM: It’s a nice word, but it’s only seven points. And here’s my word. Women. One two three four five six seven eight nine ten, and a double word score makes twenty points.

EMMA: Good job.

HYRUM: Thanks.

EMMA: I see it’s plural.


EMMA: Your word is plural. It’s “women”, plural, and not “woman”, singular.


EMMA: Why couldn’t you have put down a singular woman? Why did your word have to be women?

HYRUM: I had a lot of E’s. Why does it matter?

EMMA: I don’t know.

HYRUM: It’s your turn.

EMMA: I know.

HYRUM: You’re in a bad mood.

EMMA: Thanks for noticing.

HYRUM: What’s wrong?

EMMA: Nothing.

HYRUM: Yes, something’s wrong. I can tell. Can you please tell me what it is, sweetheart? Please, just tell me. Look, either tell me what’s bothering you or put down a word. If you don’t tell me you’re just going to be mad all night, and then we’ll stop talking and then we’ll go to bed, and then-

EMMA: No, I’ll go to bed and you’ll stay up.

HYRUM: What?

EMMA: I’ll go to bed and you’ll stay up.

HYRUM: Well that doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter if I go to bed first or if you go to bed first. If you don’t tell me what’s wrong with you, why you’re in this “woe-is-me, life-is-so-miserable” mood, then tomorrow we’ll tiptoe around each other all quiet, and then, and then, I don’t know what will happen. But you might as well tell me what your problem is if you have a problem, and if you don’t have a problem, then just put a word down so we can finish the game. By the way, I’m probably going to beat you.

EMMA: I bet you know what’s wrong with me. Let me spell it out for you. (as she puts down letters) O B E S E. Obese.

HYRUM: You got seven points this time too. So, are you trying to say that your problem is a self-image thing again?

EMMA: Yep. I feel fat.

HYRUM: Baby, Emma, I already told you that you’re not fat, sweetheart. You’re not fat. You’re pregnant. Everybody knows women gain weight when they’re pregnant. It’s natural.

EMMA: Well nobody knows I’m pregnant yet. They just think I’m chubby.

HYRUM: No they don’t.

EMMA: Yes they do. They think I’m plump.

HYRUM: You’re a very beautiful woman. I mean that. You’re very pleasant looking. And anyway, I think we should start telling people you’re pregnant. I don’t know why you want to keep it a secret.

EMMA: I told you why.

HYRUM: Oh yeah, that’s right, because you’re paranoid that you’re going to have a miscarriage.

EMMA: No, I don’t think I’m going to have a miscarriage, I just think that I might have a miscarriage. One out of every five pregnancies ends in miscarriage. That’s a crazy big percentage. And I just think that-

HYRUM: You mean fraction.

EMMA: What?

HYRUM: One out of every five is a fraction. Twenty percent would be the corresponding percentage. But it doesn’t matter. I get what you’re saying.

EMMA: What I was saying before you interrupted me is that most miscarriages happen in the first trimester, and we’d hate to have to tell everybody about a miscarriage. It’d be terrible. And most of the time miscarriages have nothing to do with the mother’s bad eating habits or the mother’s behavior at all. It just happens. It’s sad the way a lot of women feel guilty for having miscarriages, like it was their fault, but it’s not. Their bodies can be perfectly healthy, they can be doing all the right things, going on walks, taking prenatal vitamins, everything, and it just happens. One minute the woman’s pregnant, and the next minute she’s not, and she doesn’t have a baby.

HYRUM: Yeah, miscarriages sound like no fun. I got 17 points for guilty, by the way. G U I L T Y. The Y is on a double letter score.

EMMA: So, that’s why I want to wait to tell people until I’m twelve weeks pregnant, OK? Or maybe thirteen weeks. I don’t know.

HYRUM: That’s fine. However you want to do it is fine with me. It’s your turn again babe.

EMMA: I still feel fat. That’s what’s the matter with me. It doesn’t matter that I’m pregnant. I still feel fat. I’m only eight weeks pregnant and I feel fatter than I should be. What are you going to do about it?

HYRUM: Look, I hate to say this, but, I think you need to hear it. There’s nothing I can do about the way you feel about yourself. I’ve told you already that you’re not fat. I’ve told you that you look fine- more than fine. You’re pretty. You’re a nice size. What else can I do?

EMMA: How about give me a blessing?

HYRUM: A blessing for what? Are you sick?

EMMA: Yes, I’m sick. I’m fat.

HYRUM: Babe, you’re not overweight. And anyway you don’t give blessings to fat people just for being fat.

EMMA: But I want one. How about that, Mr. Righteous Priesthood Holder? Why don’t you give me a priesthood blessing? Why don’t you go get the oil? You’re the head of the household. Why don’t you go get the holy consecrated oil and give me a blessing with your righteous priesthood to make my fatness go away?

HYRUM: What’s gotten into you?

EMMA: Are you afraid to give me a blessing, Hyrum? Scared that you might not be a righteous priesthood holder? Are you scared that maybe you’re not worthy of the Spirit?

HYRUM: What?

EMMA: Just answer the question. Are you a righteous priesthood holder?

HYRUM: Emma, why are you turning a scrabble game into a temple recommend interview?

EMMA: Answer the question. Answer the question.

HYRUM: I’m not going to answer that question. It’s inappropriate.

EMMA: Oh and you’d know all about inappropriateness. Do you live up to the vows you made to me on our wedding day? Are you a righteous priesthood holder? Answer me. Be a man for once and answer me!

HYRUM: No. This is crazy. No. I’m not going to answer those questions. Where did this come from? People don’t ask each other questions like that. I mean, are you a righteous woman? See? How do you like being asked that question?

EMMA: Yes! Yes I am a righteous woman! I read my scriptures every day. I say my prayers every day. I go to Church every Sunday. I make casseroles. I bake whole wheat bread. Yes, I am a righteous woman. And you know what else? I give you sex when you want it, and I give you sex how you want it, even when I tell you that I’m not comfortable with it, or when I tell you that I’m sleepy, but you insist on doing it, and you insist, you insist on those things you know I’m uncomfortable with, and I go along with it, and act like I enjoy it, because I am a righteous Latter-Day Saint wife. And now I’m asking you: are you a righteous Latter-Day Saint husband?

HYRUM: Babe, if you wanna slow down or take it easy, in bed, we can do that. Is that what’s bothering you?

EMMA: (opens up laptop computer and shows it to HYRUM) I found things you’ve been looking at on the computer.

HYRUM: What’d you find, sweetheart?

EMMA: Guess.

HYRUM: (HYRUM closes laptop.) We don’t need to look at that.

EMMA: Why’d you turn it off? That wastes electricity. Tell me, Hyrum, what do you find in other women that you don’t find in me?

HYRUM: Nothing. I think you’re beautiful.

EMMA: Not beautiful enough, obviously. What satisfaction do you get with those women on the computer that you don’t get with me? The stuff I saw made me sick. Just sick. You’ve committed adultery.

HYRUM: That is not adultery, Emma. What I’ve been doing is absolutely not adultery. What I’ve done is a sin, I know, but I’ve never kissed or sexually touched another woman since we started dating. And that’s the truth.

EMMA opens her scriptures to a verse she has bookmarked.

EMMA: Did you ever come across this verse in all your years of scripture study? Maybe in seminary? Maybe on your mission you returned honorably from? Matthew chapter five, verse twenty-seven. Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery. Verse twenty-eight. But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.

HYRUM: Have you told anybody else?

EMMA: No. I know you have a reputation to keep up. You have a nice big family. A father who thinks you’re perfect. Your church basketball team. I wouldn’t want to dirty your reputation.

HYRUM: I know you’re being sarcastic, but thanks for not telling anyone. They don’t need to know. No one else needs to know about this. Don’t worry babe, I’m going to get over this, and we don’t need to tell the whole neighborhood, or anybody, about it, and everything’s going to be better. It’s a weakness I have.

EMMA: It’s a sin. How long has it gone on?

HYRUM: A while.

EMMA: How long?

HYRUM: Years.

EMMA: Years?

HYRUM: Yeah.

EMMA: Since before we got married? Since before we met?


EMMA: This makes me sick. I don’t want to hear about this anymore. I don’t even want to know what exactly you’ve been doing. I saw enough to know that you’re sick. You’re a sick man who is not fit to hold the priesthood.

HYRUM: Wait, I’m sorry for what I’ve done, but-

EMMA: You weren’t worthy to marry me in the temple. I don’t think our marriage counted. Both the man and the woman have to be worthy for the temple marriage to count. You lied in your temple recommend interview. You told the bishop and the stake president that you kept the law of chastity, but you didn’t! You lied. I don’t think we’re really married.

HYRUM: Of course we’re really married, sweetheart. You’re being irrational.

EMMA: No I’m not! I don’t think we’re married in the eyes of God. No, we’re not husband and wife. We’re two strangers living in the same apartment, pretending that we’re in love, pretending that we’re happy, pretending that we’re a good Mormon couple! We’re strangers to ourselves and we’re strangers to God.

HYRUM: Sweetheart, you’re getting carried away. Your pregnancy gives you hormones that aren’t natural, and you build up these things in your mind bigger than they really are, sweetheart.

EMMA: Stop calling me sweetheart!

HYRUM: What are you going to do, run off to your Mom’s again?

EMMA: Yes. And this time I might not come back.

HYRUM: What about the baby? What about our child?

EMMA: I had a miscarriage. Goodbye Hyrum.

EMMA exits. End of play.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Assurance of Salvation

Dear Readers,

Are you saved? Am I saved?

Sometimes I’m jealous of the Baptists who believe they are saved. I wish I had their confidence.

This guy on my mission kept an interesting item in his wallet. It was his “ticket to heaven.” It was a thick piece of paper about the size a business card, decorated to look like a fancy ticket. It had his signature on it, maybe a Bible verse on it, and the date that he was saved- the date that he had accepted Jesus into his heart. I don’t think the man literally believed that he was going to hand that piece of paper to Saint Peter at the Pearly Gates, but he believed that the mystical experience he underwent as recorded on that “ticket to heaven” absolutely guaranteed him a spot in Heaven.

Quite a few Protestants believe that once you accept Jesus into your heart, you are as sure of going to heaven as if you were already there. They often quote Ephesians 2: 8 and 9: “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of woks, lest any man should boast.” Another popular verse is John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” I think I heard one girl say that her preacher said that John 3:16 was the only Bible verse anybody needed to know. Both these scriptures emphasize that salvation comes by believing in Christ, and that Christ saves you from your own sins and from this wicked world.

But what does it mean to “get saved?” What does it mean to “accept Jesus into your heart?”

Well first of all, before we make light of some Protestants’ idea of being saved, we should realize that religion nearly always seems weird to outsiders. I know my religion seems weird to outsiders. And lots of religions I learn about just seem weird or funny to me. Like Scientology. But I respect other religions. They’re interesting.

The scriptures also say that religion and spiritual experiences seem weird to other people. 1 Corinthians 2: 14 says, “But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.”

Philosophers would probably call the Baptists’ notion of “getting saved” a mystical experience. “Getting saved” cannot be rationally explained to the uninitiated. It is an experience that cannot be scientifically proven. “Getting saved” goes beyond the bounds of modern science. An online philosophy dictionary that came up quickly in a Google search ( defines mysticism as “Belief in direct apprehension of divine or eternal reality by means of spiritual contemplation distinct from more ordinary avenues of human knowledge.”

All that is to say that we can’t really understand the mystical, subjective experience of “getting saved,” but of course we need to try to understand it as best we can.

The way people have tried to describe “getting saved” to me before is usually through stories like this: “I went to church for a while, and one Sunday the preacher asked if there was any in the congregation who hadn’t been saved. I raised my hand. I was really feeling something. It was Jesus. Jesus was calling out to me. I could feel his Spirit within me. I went forth to the altar of the church while the whole church was singing praises to Jesus, and I could feel my heart yearning for something more than what I already had, yearning for Heaven. The preacher asked me if I believed in Jesus and I shouted ‘yes’. The preacher asked me if I accepted Christ as my personal Savior and I shouted ‘yes’. The preacher told me that I had been saved, but I didn’t need the preacher to tell me that, because from that moment, I knew it in my heart. I knew deep down in my soul that Christ had forgiven me of all my sins, and that I had been saved.”

I’ve heard quite a few stories and explanations of getting saved. Some people can get saved when they hear a televangelist. Some while they attend a Christian concert. Some can get saved while they read the Bible and pray. Often “getting saved” is accompanied by a dramatic life experience, like a car accident, getting off of drugs, or a death in the family. A lot of “getting saved” stories remind me of the Amazing Grace line, “I once was lost, but now am found, was blind but now I see.” Often the stories usually go, “I used to be really mean to people. But then I got saved and now I’m nice.” Or, “I used to be into drugs. But then I got saved and now I’m clean.”

I’ve had a lot of conversations about grace vs. works. Baptists say that good behavior (works) is a sign of the true believers- works is merely a byproduct of being saved, so Christians tend to be good people. But they assert that works have nothing to do with salvation. According to Baptists, salvation is a free gift from God, and all you have to do is accept it.

I’ve sometimes thought that the act of confessing Jesus as your personal Savior is itself a work, since it involves learning about Christ, at least a little, and then mentally focusing on receiving Christ, which seems like quite a bit of effort- but whatever. I think the works Baptists are talking about are things like ordinances, going to church, preaching, saying prayers, serving others, donating to charity, etc. When explaining salvation, Baptists often cite the thief on the cross who got saved. (See Luke 23: 39-43.) The story goes that the thief was a really wicked dude for his whole life, and then in the last few moments of his life, he gave a deathbed confession, accepted Jesus as his personal Savior, and then was guaranteed a spot in Heaven.

(The LDS interpretation of that scripture, though, insofar as I am qualified to give you the LDS interpretation of scripture, is that the thief on the cross was headed not to the Celestial Kingdom immediately, but to spirit paradise. Even though he believed in Christ, he still had to have the ordinances of salvation administered to him to be saved- baptism, confirmation, ordination to the priesthood, and temple ordinances- and he still had to get resurrected.)

I think some say it’s possible to fall from grace after one is saved, like if you murder somebody after you accept Jesus into your heart then you’re not saved anymore, and you need to get saved again. But I think quite a few people believe that no matter how bad they are, they are covered by the blood of the Lamb. I’m not sure if they’re so confident in their pending salvation when they’re alone and meditative, but when they talked to me (and I’m mostly drawing my knowledge from my experiences in West Virginia, Virginia, and Ohio as an LDS missionary from 2002-2004.) they seemed to say, “I’m absolutely positive without a doubt t-totally sure that I am going to Heaven because Jesus has saved me and I know that the Lord cannot lie!”

One thing I like about the “getting saved” notion of the Baptists is that it turns religion and salvation into a private, personal thing. I recently watched a great PBS program on Martin Luther ( That show emphasized that the work of Martin Luther took power away from the institution of the Catholic Church and put it into the people’s hands. Luther wanted everyone to be able to read the Bible in their own language, and he wanted people to see that salvation couldn’t be bought with money or by buying indulgences, but salvation and forgiveness were personal matters of the heart. In the Catholic Church, especially in the Middle Ages, believers were dependent on the clergy for salvation. They held the keys that people needed in order to go to Heaven. They also preferred their congregations to be illiterate, I think. Luther’s ideas were a sharp contrast to the Pope’s dogma.

But maybe it’s best to let Baptists to explain Baptist doctrine and to let Catholics explain Catholic doctrine.

My point is, I sometimes found it funny that when I was a missionary, my message to a lot of these people who believed they were saved was, ultimately, that they weren’t really saved. My message was that they needed to be baptized by an authorized priesthood holder and become a Latter-Day Saint. But at the same time that I was preaching to people that they weren’t really saved, I was wondering if I was “saved.”

There I was a missionary, devoting much of my life to God, trying to be good, and yet I wasn’t sure that after I died I was going to the Celestial Kingdom to live forever in a mansion (John 14:2). That’s why I say sometimes I’m jealous of the Baptists who know they are saved. I wish I had their assurance of salvation. (Even though they’re not really saved.)

I still have doubts that I’ll make it to the celestial kingdom because I’ve sinned a lot, and I’m worried that for too much of my life, my heart has not been in the right place. I’m lazy. Even though I write a lot about religion on Telemoonfa Time, I sometimes don’t feel like going to church, and sometimes I entertain wicked, wicked thoughts. Sometimes I worry that I have not accepted Christ’s atonement enough.

And some scriptures worry me, too, like Matthew 7: 13 and 14. Jesus says, “…wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.”

Here’s another sort-of scary scripture: Matthew 7: 22-23: “Many will say to me in that day, [Judgment Day, I think] Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? And in thy name have cast out devils? And in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.”

I might be one of the many people that Christ is referring to in Matthew 7:22.

One of the good things about school is you know how you’re doing. I’ve been going to school for a long time, and I’ve almost always known what grade I was going to get in my classes. And I’ve been able to track my own progress in a lot of other pursuits in my life- how many push-ups I can do, how far I can ride my bicycle. But as for how I’m doing spiritually- that’s not quantifiable or measurable. Tracking spiritual progress is not a science.

A missionary I worked with said he didn’t think he would go to the Celestial Kingdom. And he seemed like such a hardworking, spiritual, good guy. But it’s hard to get into the Celestial Kingdom, he said. Cuts have to be made.

I remembering feeling like, if this guy didn’t think he was going to get there, what chance did I have? My attitude was, I’ll do the best I can, sort of, and maybe I’ll make it to the Terrestrial kingdom.

Lots of great theologians have felt unsure of their salvation. That insecurity might be what drives them on to further study and works- and eventually to salvation. One of my favorite parts of the Confessions of St. Augustine (OK, OK, pretty much the only part of the book I know because I haven’t really read the whole thing) is devoted to Augustine feeling horrible for his small sin of stealing pears with some of his punk teenager friends as a youth. He laments for pages and pages about how bad he is, and how angry God is at him. Maybe Augustine sought after God so fervently because he wanted to make up for his sins.

Martin Luther also had a fanatical devotion to God when he was a Catholic monk. He was a very austere, faithful monk. A few of the monks in his monastery would whip themselves to purge themselves from sin and bad thoughts. Martin Luther sometimes slept outside in the snow freezing, and his fellow monks had to drag him inside to keep him from dying or getting hypothermia or frostbite. That’s pretty extreme, but Martin Luther was showing his devotion to God and striving to get God’s blessing. I think it could have been Luther’s insecurity of his own salvation that drove him to become such a great reformer.

The righteous prophet Nephi also feels inadequate and unfit for the kingdom of God at times. Now, he was a very very very very good man who diligently sought to know the ways of God. But as good as he was, Nephi writes, in 2 Nephi 4: 17-19, “… O wretched man that I am! Yea, my heart sorroweth because of my flesh; my soul grieveth because of mine iniquities. I am encompassed about, because of the temptations and the sins which do so easily beset me. And when I desire to rejoice, my heart groaneth because of my sins…”

Joseph Smith was also unsure of his status before God. He writes, in Joseph Smith History 1: 29, “I often felt condemned for my weakness and imperfections; when, on the evening of the above-mentioned twenty-first of September, after I had retired to my bed for the night, I betook myself to prayer and supplication to Almighty God for forgiveness of all my sins and follies and also for a manifestation to me that I might know of my state and standing before him…”

Hey wait a minute- I thought that Joseph Smith was really righteous and squared away with God. Why is the prophet of God in doubt about his own salvation? Shouldn’t he, of all people, enjoy the assurance that he will be saved?

Maybe not.

Maybe part of God’s plan is to keep his followers on edge a little bit. He wants us to hunger and thirst after righteousness, and not to be complacent with our spiritual status. He wants us to wrestle with angels until they give us a blessing. He wants us to not be so confident of our pending salvation that we sit around and do nothing. He wants us to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling. (Philippians 2:12)


Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Thomas Edison EXPOSED (Animal lovers, you’ve got to see this!)

Dear Readers,

Since my recent dabbling in animal rights activism, (see my last two posts) I have adopted for myself a new life-statement: Telemoonfa: making animals everywhere more comfortable since May 26th 2009!

As a natural outgrowth of my new-found animal rights advocacy, I’ve just discovered that one of our American “heroes”, someone we “revere” and “look up to” and “name our sons after” was actually very sucky.

I speak of Thomas Edison.

Right now you’re probably thinking that Thomas Edison was great, right? You’re probably thinking that Thomas Edison was the renowned inventor of the phonograph, the light bulb, the motion picture camera, and many other things.

Oh contrare monfrare!

Edison’s contributions to modern technology in no way make up for the torture and cruelty he inflicted on our feline friends.

Edison hated cats.

In fact, Edison was such a felinegynist (one who harbors severe mistrust or hatred of cats) that he wanted them all to die!

And the historical record shows that Edison tried to exterminate them all from the planet by making cats engage in a grueling series of cruel boxing matches.

That makes Thomas Edison pretty much exactly like Adolf Hitler.

In fact, I have it from very good authority (PETA) that Edison once attempted to pry a purring kitten from the lap of a lonely grandmother, just so he could enter the kitten into a barbaric boxing competition! Luckily valiant PETA volunteers were there to stop Mr. Edison from achieving his dastardly aim, and the kitten was saved.

But the cat-hating Edison persisted in his treacherous enterprise. Instead of going after household cats, he went after the most disenfranchised felines of all- alley cats- the furry four-footed transients we all see but ignore! (and whose plight has been exploited by such greedy Broadway tycoons as Andrew Lloyd Weber. Shame on him!)

Without any government regulations to prevent Edison from doing so, and with the entire membership of PETA busied by their annual falafel eat-a-thon, Thomas Edison gathered up two cats from the streets, strapped miniature cat-sized boxing gloves to their front paws, and made them fight!

Luckily, evidence of Edison’s felinegyny has survived, so now the public can know what this man was really like!

The truth will set you free.


I’m Sorry

Dear Readers,

Thank you for reading, wherever you may be. What I have to say to you today is difficult. But it’s moments like these, moments when people admit their faults and attempt to right their wrongs, which truly define character.

I would like to sincerely apologize for the hurt I have caused with my last post. When I wrote and published, “A reason I’d actually consider moving to Canada,” I acted in a moment of haste- a moment marked by a lack of sensitive judgment on my part. The pressures associated with my position of being the sole author and operator of Telemoonfa Time have taken their toll on my mental and physical state, but that is no excuse for what I have done.

I take full emotional and spiritual responsibility for the damages my thoughtless comments have caused to Canadians, to seals, to the offspring of seals, and, finally, to the offspring of Canadians. And let me not forget to acknowledge the particularly devastating harm I have inflicted upon the most vulnerable among us, the offspring of Canadian seals.

Having had the advantage of long hours of reflection, I now realize that my words, “Take that, animal activists!” was a particularly poor choice of vocabulary. As if those unkind words had not been destructive enough, I exclaimed my sentence, as evidenced by the accompanying exclamation mark. I have since been made aware of my error, and wish to publicly acknowledge, insofar as I have the power to do so, that I should have used a period.

Or perhaps in better taste would have been a colon immediately followed by parenthesis, so as to indicate a smiley face. Even better would have been the abbreviation “j” slash “k” which stands for “just kidding” to let you know that my comments were not made in honesty, but were in fact made in jest. The “j/k” would have let you know that I really did not mean to say, “Take that, animal activists!” but rather, “Take that, animal activists! Just Kidding.”

Alas, at the time of my last publication, in a moment of misjudgment, the weaker side of my character prevailed. Alas, alas.

Having said that, I want each one of you individually to know that I feel it is time that we put these hurtful remarks behind us. Pithy arguments over how many seal hearts were consumed or shallow speculation as to how many American expatriates were produced as a result of my last blog post do nothing but continue the feelings of ill-will I am now trying to dissolve. Now is a time for forgiveness. Now is a time for healing.

As the great statesman Abraham Lincoln once said, as he was reaching out to the South near the end of the great and terrible War Between the States, “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds… to do all which may achieve and cherish a just, and a lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.”

I resound Lincoln’s truly American sentiment- resound it with all the vigor I am here and now capable of mustering. By which resounding I hope to right the wrongs I have wrought, and to metaphorically apply band-aids to the icky boo-boos which I am responsible for, and for which icky boo-boos I do now apologize.

Thank you.

And God bless America.


Tuesday, May 26, 2009

A reason I’d actually consider moving to Canada

Dear Readers,

I don’t wanna move to Canada.

I don’t wanna move to Canada ‘cause they don’t let you have lots of really big guns, the health care isn’t as good as America’s, and they still have Queen Elizabeth on their money, and ‘cause they talk funny, and ‘cause it’s too cold there.

But I just read something that made me see our Northern neighbors in a little better light.

Bwah ha ha! That’s the best news I’ve heard all day! The Governor General (Whatever that funny Canadian political office is- but it sounds important) ate the heart of a seal! On purpose! In front of everyone! Woo-hoo!

Take that, animal activists!


Friday, May 22, 2009

Walt Whitman Meets Trevor

Dear Readers,

I’m taking a playwriting class right now that I really like. We had to write a short play that had to have some weird stuff in it. It had to have 3 hats, a famous historical/ fictional character who delivers a monologue, a teenager, a character who sings, the color purple, and the line, “when did I make that wish?” The play could be really silly. As it turns out, this play is really silly. Without further ado, here’s my play:

Walt Whitman Meets Trevor

a 10 minute play by Telemoonfa

Scene: Trevor, a teenager wearing a purple hat, stands at a farmhouse doorstep. The American Midwest. 1850.

Trevor: Hello.

Mr. Whitman: Can I help you?

Trevor: Yes sir. I was walking by your farm and saw-

Mr. Whitman: What’s that on your head?

Trevor: Is there something on my head?

Mr. Whitman: Is that a hat?

Trevor: Yes sir.

Mr. Whitman: Strangest looking hat I’ve ever seen. What do you want anyway?

Trevor: Right, well, I’m sorry. I was wondering if you needed a hand around the farm. I’ve done lots of farm work before, well, a little anyway and if I could just, help in any way I can… I’m raising money for college. I want to go to school so that eventually I can -

Mr. Whitman: See that man way over there?

Trevor: Yes sir.

Mr. Whitman: He’s my son. His name is Walt Whitman. Go talk to him, if you want to
work, and if you work ‘til sunset, I’ll pay you a dollar. And I’ll feed you dinner.

Trevor: Oh thank you very much sir. I’m very grateful that you-

Mr. Whitman: And I’d throw that hat away if I were you.

Trevor: Yes sir. You’re right. It is a silly hat. (He walks to a different part of the stage. singing.)
Here I go a walking on
Walking as I sing this song
Looking for work, looking for work,
Looking for pay, looking for pay
‘cause I’m an honest boy.

(To Walt Whitman) Hello! Hi! My name’s Trevor.

WW: My name’s Walt.

Trevor: Your father said I could work with you. He said you’ve got some farm work to
do and he’d pay me a dollar at the end of the day.

WW: A dollar? He must like you. Or maybe he likes your hat. What do you think of my
hat? Oh nevermind, there’s time for that later. Right now we have to work. Follow me. Wait, no, I should know something about you before we start working together all day. We’ll be sharing the whole day together, hopefully. Maybe more. So I should know at least a little bit about you. That’s only proper. How long have you been in the area?

Trevor: Just got here yesterday.

WW: Where are you from?

Trevor: Down south.

WW: Down south huh? I love the south. That’s my favorite direction.

Trevor: I’m from Louisiana, to be more particular.

WW: Yes, I love the south. And I love you too, Trevor. Is that weird? I love you. Does
that make you feel uncomfortable? I hope it doesn’t make you uncomfortable. I’m not trying to make you feel uncomfortable, but… I love you. I just like saying it. Trevor, I’ve been praying for you to come here. Just this morning, when I was waking up, right when a dream left my mind, I felt the urge to get on my knees and pray. I don’t pray very often. Hardly ever. But this morning, for some reason, it felt like the right thing to do. I love you. Do you pray, Trevor?

Trevor: What kind of work should I do?

WW: First tell me if you pray, then we’ll get to work. Don’t worry. You’ll get your
dollar. Do you pray?

Trevor: Yes, I pray. I’m a Christian. I suppose I don’t pray as much as I should or as
long as I should, but I do pray.

WW: That’s good Trevor. I’m glad you pray. Very glad. I pray too. I prayed for you to
come here. This morning I asked the Lord to send me a friend, and you came knocking on my farmhouse door. There you are, Trevor, standing in front of me, and here I am, standing in front of you, and here we are together, both standing on this farm. And it’s a bright, bright morning.

Trevor: What kind of work should I do?

WW: Work? Oh, you’ve already done enough. Don’t worry about work. Just being here
is work enough, Trevor. Trevor. I like that name. Trevor from down south, Trevor from Lousisana… You’re doing the Lord’s work. God sent you here to me. I’m lonely. I’m a poet. I’m sorry. Please don’t go. Here, take this bucket. Feed the pigs. (Trevor starts to feed the pigs) No. Stop. Sorry. I forgot I already fed the pigs. They’re fat enough as it is. Pink plump pigs. Pink plump pigs. I like the way that sounds. Pink plump pigs. Here. (WW hands Trevor a shovel) Start digging a hole. Father wants to transplant a tree. An apricot tree. He says the soil is better over here and he said something about the way the sunlight hits this spot of ground, if I remember correctly. I really don’t know much about farming. I just dress this way because I like to pretend I’m a farmer. The hole should be three feet deep. No, four feet deep. Wait. Do you know how deep a hole for an apricot tree should be?

Trevor: Four feet, I think. (Trevor starts digging. WW paces back and forth.)

WW: Wait. Stop. Sorry. Father doesn’t really want to transplant a tree today. Sorry. I
don’t think Father would be very happy if he came over here and saw you digging a hole in his nice ground. Why are you messing up Father’s ground that way? It was just fine the way it was before you started stabbing it with that shovel. I love you.

Trevor: Look, Walt Whitman, let me tell you what I think.
(singing) I came here for money
That’s what I really want
I came here for money
That’s why I want to work
I came here for money
Tuition is expensive
I came here for money
And not to be your friend

WW: You sing! I asked God to bring me a nice young man, just an ordinary man, an
ordinary man to be my friend, to ease my loneliness, and he brought me a nice young man who sings! Trevor! (WW hugs Trevor. Trevor shoves and punches WW. Trevor threatens WW with the shovel.) What was that for? You’re becoming frightening. Put the shovel down. Please. Put the shovel down. Trevor, please, I said put the shovel down. I said please. Put the shovel down!

Trevor: I’ll put the shovel down if you keep away from me and tell me what I can do to
earn a dollar. Feed animals? Dig holes? Pick fruit? I don’t care what it is. I’ll pick fruit if you want me to pick fruit. I’m good at picking fruit. I need the money and this farm is the only farm around for miles and miles. That’s all I’m here for. Just, please… OK, here look, I’m putting the shovel down and I’m stepping away from it. See? Tell me what kind of work I should do or else I’m leaving. God didn’t send me here. I just wandered here. I didn’t mean to hurt you. You seem like a nice man. I really didn’t mean to hurt you. Are you all right?

WW: Yes, Trevor, I’m fine. I want you to stay. Please don’t go. I’ve already forgotten
about the shovel incident between you and me. I forgive you. Write poems with me. I’m a poet. I write poetry. Please, write poems with me. Why don’t we start now? OK, I’ll start the line, and you finish it. Ready? Green fields of grass grow slowly yet fastly. No, that’s no good. Green fields of grass grow slowly. That’s better. It’s simple, but it’s true. Just look around you. Isn’t the grass growing slowly? That’s when you know if a poem is a good poem. When it’s true. Now you come up with the next line, Trevor.

Trevor: I have to go. (WW kills Trevor with the shovel)

WW: Here I am working on the farm, feeding pigs, feeding chickens, feeding cows,
walking from the field to the barn, walking from the barn to the field, walking, walking, sweating. My pen is lonely in the drawer of the desk where I left it last night, shut up in the darkness of a closed drawer. The sky is a gorgeous color. The smell of the grass is more pleasant than expensive perfume. But how will anyone know? My pen is in a drawer in the house, and I’m doing this farm work. I wish I could be inside writing poems about the sky. Poems that people will love. Poems that people will memorize. Poems that make the sky more genuine and majestic than it would be without my poems. My pen would give the masses the words that are hidden deep inside them. If only I could stop doing this farm work. But the bank might take my father’s land away. And so I feed the chickens. And wait for money to come floating from the sky. And when did I wish for a friend? When did I make that wish? A pen is the only friend I need. (Mr. Whitman enters)

Mr. Whitman: Looks like you killed the kid.

WW: Yes Father, I did. With this shovel.

Mr. Whitman: What are you going to do with the body?

WW: Feed it to the pigs, maybe. Mix it in with their slop.

Mr. Whitman: Naw, better bury him and then plant a tree on top of him. An apricot tree
maybe. Nobody would think to dig underneath a tree. And human bodies make good fertilizer.

WW: Can I go inside and write poetry? Please?

Mr. Whitman: No. Finish your chores.


A play in one act by Telemoonfa

The front lawn of an American southwestern city hall.

DAVID, 32, enters, sets up two lawn chairs, a cooler, and a protest sign that says, “Clean up Redistricting Now!” He looks around, waiting for others to arrive. BETH, 27, enters.

Good morning.

Good morning.

Are you here for the protest?


Oh good. Me too. I was starting to think I was the only one that was going to show up. What time is this thing supposed to start?

The email I got said ten.

My phone says it’s 10:17 now and so far it’s just you and me. There’ll probably be more people soon, though. More people who care about such an obscure political issue like redistricting.

Yeah. And what’s so frustrating is that redistricting is such an obscure political issue, you know? It has an enormous impact on us, and it gives the politicians so much power, and yet, it’s like, nobody knows about it.

I know. It’s horrible.

It’s like, during campaigns all everybody wants to know is what politicians are going to do for the economy, crime, traffic, taxes, education, stuff politicians can’t really do anything about anyway, and don’t get me wrong, those are all really important issues, but, hardly anybody worries about redistricting laws, and it’s frustrating how that never comes up. The solution, in my opinion, is to get a completely neutral outside entity to draw the district lines every ten years, when the census data comes out. And when I say completely neutral, I mean, completely neutral, like a committee from Canada or something.

Yeah, I think it’d be important for the people to be neutral, too. Completely neutral.

But the problem is, it’s nearly impossible to find a neutral party. Everybody takes bribes. Too many politicians are corrupt. Have you heard, ‘In business, if you waste money or take bribes, you get fired. In government, you get promoted.’?

That’s funny. Did you come up with that?

No, I heard it somewhere. I just wish more people knew about this.

Me too. But hey, we’re doing our part. You know, you look familiar. Where do you work, if you don’t mind me asking?

Swift-Holcomb Manufacturing.

I knew it! You’re in the legal department, aren’t you?


I work at Swift-Holcomb too. I work in research and development. I knew I’ve seen you around. My name’s David.

I’m Beth. Yeah, I thought maybe I recognized you, too. How long have you worked there?

About five years. And you?

A little over a year.

Do you like it?

You know what, I do like it. I’m pretty fresh out of law school, so I don’t have many other career experiences to compare it too. But so far, it’s not too bad. Best paying job I’ve ever had.

Hmm. That company is so big sometimes you don’t even recognize your own co-workers. What do they have, around seven hundred employees?

I don’t know. I’d guess about that much. Nice sign, by the way.

Thanks. I thought I should make one. I couldn’t come up with anything clever, so I just decided to go straightforward.

It’s a good sign. Nice and big, so people can see it. So, should I start yelling or something? I don’t really know what to do. I’ve never been to a protest before.


Oh, I think I went to a couple of them in college, but just because I had some friends who were going, if I remember, or maybe I was curious, or bored, and not because I really believed in the cause.

Well, why don’t we wait until more people come. Then we can start yelling and marching in circles and making a ruckus. I think it’d look weird for just the two of us to be standing in front of city hall protesting redistricting laws. Although I guess you can start yelling if you want to.

Stop corruption! Change redistricting laws! I can’t think of anything else to yell. Yeah, it feels weird to yell with just the two of us here.

Hey do you want some sunscreen? I think it’s going to get to a hundred today.

BETH’s cell phone rings.

Um, maybe, hold on. Hi Ryan. How’s work, honey? … Oh, yeah, that’s frustrating. It is weird that you’re in on a Saturday… I know. You’ve worked there long enough for them not to make you work on a weekend… Yeah… Yeah… No, I’m down at the protest. Remember when I was talking to you about that last night, about the redistricting laws?… Because I believe in the cause… I know, it’s so unlike me to go to a protest, but, I thought why not, you know? … The protest’s going alright, I guess, but so far there’s like nobody here. Just me and one other guy. Do you know David from research and development? … Oh. Really? … That’s right, I forgot about that… OK… Yeah. Don’t worry. I love you… Bye. Do you know Ryan? He works at Swift-Holcomb, too.

Yeah, I think I do know Ryan. Really tall, brown hair, says, “good deal” a lot?

Yeah, that’s him.

How long have you two been together?

Almost two years. I actually applied to Swift-Holcomb so I could move here to be closer to Ryan.

Is that an engagement ring?

Yes it is.

It’s very pretty.

Thank you.

Really pretty.


When’s the big day?

In three months.

Well that’s great. Congratulations. That’s wonderful. Just wonderful. Where is the wedding going to be?

At our church.

Oh, so you’re religious.

No, I wouldn’t call ourselves religious, exactly, but his Mom is really religious, and she wants us to have a more traditional wedding. So, we thought we’d have it in a church.

That’s great.

Thank you. I really wish more people would show up.

Yeah, me too. What does Ryan say about me?

Say about you?

Yeah, does he ever talk about his boss? Well, I’m not his boss, exactly, but I actually am in charge of scheduling his hours.

So you’re the one that made him work today.

We’re in a crunch right now. It’s nothing personal. It’s just that we have to get a lot of stuff done in a hurry. You know how deadlines are. Yeah, Ryan… he’s a good guy. Good worker. And you’re going to marry him. Are you sure he’s the one?

We get along great, yeah.

And it doesn’t bug you the way he’s always, saying, “good deal,” “good deal.”

He isn’t like that at home. He’s like that in public situations, though, like at work I think he tries to show people a positive attitude, so… Yeah, we get along just fine.

Well sure, you get along with him OK, but, we’re talking marriage here. Is he really long-term husband material? I mean, in three months he’s going to be your husband for the rest of your life, and you’re OK with that?

Yes, I am.

Sorry. I don’t mean to get too personal. I barely even know you.

Oh, don’t worry about it. I’m actually usually pretty open to talking about my love life with other people. I think that’s healthy. I don’t want to be in one of those relationships where I’m not allowed to talk to anybody else about it. Those are scary.

I guess I’ve just had bad experiences with romantic relationships before. It’s hard for me to still believe in marriage, you know? It’s hard for me to believe that humans can be monogamous. But you and Ryan seem like a happy couple. You’re sure you’re ready to take the plunge?

What kind of a question is that?

You’re right. I’m happy for you. Maybe we should talk about something else.

Yeah, maybe we should talk about something else. Like what we came here for. Redistricting. Maybe I’m not that open to talking about my love life after all, especially with my fiancĂ©’s sort-of boss.

Oh, I got too much sunscreen. Here.

DAVID puts sunscreen on BETH’s hands. BETH rubs it on her body.

This is s.p.f. 45. Most powerful stuff you can buy without a prescription. I burn so easily, that’s why I get the most powerful sunscreen I can find.

Really, it’s sad that nobody else has shown up. Who organized this protest anyway?

I don’t know. I think I got the mass email from somewhere just like you did.

Hmm. It’s weird that nobody else is here. I do believe in the cause, though.

Me too.

I just wish more people knew about this. It is a big deal, right? We’re not crazy for being here, are we?

No, we’re not crazy. We’re informed citizens doing our part to make democracy work.

You sound like a politician. But just think, while we’re here, most people are probably enjoying they’re Saturday off. Hanging out by a pool somewhere. Barbequing. Shopping. Watching TV.

Making love.

Seriously, David, do you think this protest is really solving anything? I mean, is us being out here in front of city hall making an impact? The people driving by probably just think we’re having a picnic. That’s why I haven’t protested much before. It doesn’t seem to do anything. I do believe in the cause, though. I believe in a lot of causes. If I had more free time, and more money, I’d support all sorts of causes and charities I believe in.

Me too.

I’d help find a cure for AIDS, cancer, the common cold, everything.

Me too.

I’d give a home to homeless children, too, if I had the resources. I’d donate money to the schools so they can hire decent teachers and buy decent school supplies. I’d stop war everywhere, too, if I had enough money or power. I really would. I just don’t have much say in what goes on in the world. I’ve always been an active voter, but I don’t feel like my vote counts that much.

Yeah, I doubt we’re making much of a change at all, especially with just the two of us here.

Probably not. But at least it’s a nice day outside. Say, what do you have in that cooler?

Water and Beer. Would you like some?

Yeah. I’ll have some water.

Are you sure?


Why don’t you have the beer?

I don’t know. Do you think they’ll take our protesting less seriously if we have beer cans in our hands?

We won’t get drunk or anything. We’ll just politely sip our drinks. Anyway, do protesters usually abstain from all mind-altering substances just to assure everyone that they’re in a stable state of mind? If anything, I would think that people would take protesters on drugs and alcohol more seriously, because they might do something dangerous.

Yeah, and like, we’re so angry about the situation that we just have to drink?


OK, give me a beer.

They start drinking. DAVID starts to rub her feet.

David, what are you doing?


What are you doing with your hands?

Rubbing your feet. Is that OK?

Yeah. It feels good.

DAVID kisses BETH. She draws back suddenly.

I have to go. Please don’t tell Ryan what we just did.

We didn’t do anything.

He’s a good man. I love him. I love Ryan. I have to go. I forgot about this- I have an appointment with my hairdresser, so I have to go to.

DAVID watches her leave, and then finishes his beer.

End of play.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The LDS Church and State

Dear Readers,

I’d be interested to see what an LDS theocracy would look like these days. Right now the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is officially politically neutral. Here’s the official statement:

And right now the LDS church doesn’t have political jurisdiction over any state. Not even Utah, technically. But what would it look like, I wonder, if the LDS church ran the government? What would it look like if the LDS church made and enforced all the laws, had the power to collect taxes, build roads, declare war, coin money and so on?

I’m curious because the true church and state haven’t always been separated. For example, Moses was effectively the king and the prophet at the same time. Nephi was also effectively the king and the prophet at the same time.

In modern times, Joseph Smith was the mayor of Nauvoo and the general of the Nauvoo Legion, and he was even a candidate for President of the United States.

We shouldn’t call 1840’s Nauvoo a theocracy, though. Well, I don’t know, maybe we should. It’s arguable. Here’s the definition from “a form of government in which God or a deity is recognized as the supreme civil ruler, the God’s or deity’s laws being interpreted by the ecclesiastical authorities.”

Also, “theocracy” has sort of a bad connotation. When I hear the word “theocracy,” I think it really means there’s a dictator claiming revelation from God, killing all dissenters. But the beautiful thing about Nauvoo and the beautiful thing about Salt Lake City is that the inhabitants didn’t all have to be Mormon. Everybody was invited to convert, and probably socially pressured to convert, but everybody wasn’t legally required to convert. It wasn’t a law to be Mormon. It wasn’t a law to pay tithing or attend church on Sunday. You wouldn’t get fined or thrown in jail if you didn’t do your home teaching. Sure, there were probably laws that reflected the Mormon milieu, (like many U.S. laws reflect a Christian background) but the freedom of religion was ensured for all.

I think 1840s Nauvoo and 1850s -1900s Salt Lake City were a lot like the government found in Alma chapter 1 in The Book of Mormon. In that chapter, a bad guy named Nehor preached against Christ and became popular and eventually killed a righteous man named Gideon. The law could not punish Nehor because of his preaching- the Nephite government supported freedom of speech- but they did have a law against murder, so they punished Nehor for murder. In Alma 1:14, Alma is talking to Nehor:

14 Therefore thou art condemned to die, according to the law which has been given us by Mosiah, our last king; and it has been acknowledged by this people; therefore this people must abide by the law.

15 And it came to pass that they took him; and his name was Nehor; and they carried him upon the top of the hill Manti, and there he was caused, or rather did acknowledge, between the heavens and the earth, that what he had taught to the people was contrary to the word of God; and there he suffered an ignominious death.

16 Nevertheless, this did not put an end to the spreading of priestcraft through the land; for there were many who loved the vain things of the world, and they went forth preaching false doctrines; and this they did for the sake of riches and honor.

17 Nevertheless, they durst not lie, if it were known, for fear of the law, for liars were punished; therefore they pretended to preach according to their belief; and now the law could have no power on any man for his belief.

Isn’t that great? In that “theocracy” where Alma was the chief judge and the prophet at the same time, Alma still allowed freedom of speech. That’s a heck of a lot different than what Stalin and Hitler and other godless dictators did.

When Joseph Smith was asked how he governed the early Latter-Day Saints, he replied, “I teach them correct principles and they govern themselves.” What a brilliant, beautiful response.

I really wonder what would have happened if Joseph Smith wasn’t assassinated and the Mormons weren’t kicked out of Illinois. That would have been awesome if Joseph Smith became politically popular and became the President of the USA.

I’m sort of like the Jews in the meridian of time who were expecting a political Messiah instead of a spiritual Messiah. Sometimes I want a Messiah with real political clout, someone who will stop reigning in the heavens and start reigning on the Earth, someone who will turn all the injustices into justices, and make all crime and suffering go away.

I like this passage in Jews Without Money, by Michael Gold on page 189 and 190. In the book a group of Christian boys beat up Mikey, basically just because he’s a Jew, and they call him a “Christ-killer.” Mikey goes home to his mother and asks her about how the Jews killed Christ.

I sat in my mother’s lap, sobbing, while she washed away the blood and filth. She scolded me, kissed me, and cursed the bad Christians who had done this.

“Who is Christ, momma?”

“It is their false Messiah!” said my mother, bitterly.

“But I didn’t kill him! Why do they say I killed him?”
“Of course you didn’t kill him, darling. Don’t cry so. The Christians killed him, and now they blame us for it.”

“But who was Christ, momma?”

“He was a bad magician who wanted to make the Jews believe he was the Messiah. But we laughed at him, so he hated us, and betrayed his own race to the Gentiles.”

“And he really wasn’t the Messiah?”

“Of course not. When the Messiah comes he will save the world. He will make everything good. That false Messiah made things only worse. Look at the world; liars and thieves everywhere, wars, murders, and children killed with street cars! When the true Messiah comes he will change all this.”

“When will he come, momma?”

“I don’t know. Ask Reb Samuel; [a learned, faithful Jew in the neighborhood] maybe he can tell you.”

The thing pressed on my mind. I asked Reb Samuel in his umbrella store that afternoon. He said the Messiah might not come for many years. He would ride a white horse and put to shame every enemy of the Jews.

Would he look like Buffalo Bill? I asked.

No. He would be pale, young, and peaceful. He would not shoot people down, but would conquer them with love.

I was disappointed. I needed a Messiah who would look like Buffalo Bill, and who could annihilate our enemies.

I can relate a little bit to Mikey when he wants a Messiah who will more quickly fix all wrongs. Unfortunately, Mikey (who basically represents the author himself, Michael Gold) does not do all he can to better the world himself while patiently waiting for the Messiah to come. Unfortunately, Mikey does not explore spirituality, become more faithfully Jewish, or convert to a different religion. Instead he forsakes God and converts to Communism.

He ends the book, on page 309, this way:

A man on an East Side soap-box, one night, proclaimed that out of the despair, melancholy and helpless rage of millions, a world movement had been born to abolish poverty.

I listened to him.

O workers’ Revolution, you brought hope to me, a lonely, suicidal boy. You are the true Messiah. You will destroy the East Side when you come, and build there a garden for the human spirit.

O Revolution, that forced me to think, to struggle and to live.

O great Beginning!

Notice the way Mikey addresses the Communist Revolution as he would address a Deity. For some reason, his commitment to Communism and his commitment to Judaism are mutually exclusive- Mikey can’t be a devout Jew and a devout Communist at the same time. I think he can be ethnically a Jew and politically a Communist at the same time. He can claim Judaism as a cultural heritage, but he can't be spiritually a Jew and politically a Communist. It just does not work.

That’s the way it seems to be with Communism and religion. I suppose theoretically, one could be socialist/communist and also Christian. But it hasn’t happened much before. Can you think of anyone who was devoutly Christian and devoutly Communist at the same time? I can’t.


More About the News

Dear Readers,

This post has the links to a few interesting news articles I’ve found recently with some of my thoughts about them.

I’ve written a bit before about how language is slippery, rhetoric is tricky, and about how just “saying exactly what you mean” is more difficult than it sounds. That’s why I’m glad for other forms of communication, like art, dance, body language, spiritual communication, etc. This article talks about how the military is trying to get their soldiers to be all telepathic. It’s pretty cool. Like X-Men powers!

Seriously, I like the idea of our tax money funding awesome stuff like telepathy for soldiers rather than stopping global warming or building a suicide prevention wall or letting street lights shine all day.

The next article is particularly interesting to me because I’m hopefully going to be a teacher in a public school setting soon. (I haven’t landed a job yet, but there’re still a few months until school starts) The article’s about these tenured public school teachers who get accused of sexual harassment or other bad things. They can’t get fired very easily because they have tenure, and their case needs to be reviewed (by the school board, I think) before they’re found guilty, but they can appeal the decision, so, the process of firing a tenured teacher can end up taking years.
The frustrating thing is that during the years that the investigation is being conducted, the teacher remains on salary, but they don’t do anything, and they’re not allowed to get another job. I suppose they could get an under-the-table job, or volunteer somewhere, though. But if they’re on salary for doing nothing, where’s the motivation for them to work?

It’s another article that might get you upset about wasteful spending and upset about governmental bureaucracy. It seems like there should be a more sensible, quicker way to streamline everybody’s efforts so that as little money and energy as possible are wasted. My solution is to clone Mitt Romney and put Mitt Romney clones in charge of everything. I would even give the Mitt Romney clones lots of weapons of mass destruction, just because I trust them so much.,0,3038809.story

This next article is about some “missing link” fossil that some scientists found and they’re saying that it proves evolution true. The news article says that it’s finally settled that humans evolved from animals. Well you know what I say to those scientists? Ala-quiffert! Yeah right! Whatever!

The part of the article I like the least is: “Sir David Attenborough said Darwin ‘would have been thrilled’ to have seen the fossil- and says it tells us who we are and where we came from.”

Those bones in the ground tell us who we are and where we came from? That’s not what I believe. I choose to believe that “Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:/ The Soul that rises with us, our life’s Star,/ Hath had elsewhere its setting,/ And cometh from afar:/ Not in entire forgetfulness,/ And not in utter nakedness,/ But trailing clouds of glory do we come/ From God, who is our home” (from Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood by William Wordsworth) Of course we could argue about the potential compatibility of faith in God and belief in evolution.

Darwin, Freud, Nietzsche… grrr… “All them scientists. They say they’re working for us, but what they really want is to RULE THE WORLD!!!” (That’s a quote from Young Frankenstein, a movie directed by Mel Brooks.)

Hmmm… what else has been going on in the news?

Obama talked with Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu recently about peace in the Middle East. Hopefully his peace talks will solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But unfortunately I think the fighting and animosity over there is going to continue until the Battle of Armageddon happens and Jesus comes back.

Also, I’m a little ashamed to say that I’ve spent quite a bit of time recently following the Carrie Prejean-Perez Hilton-Donald Trump scandal. It’s trashy news, I know, but I like it. It’s like MTV for the news!

It reminds me of when Rosie O’Donnell and Donald Trump were fighting in the news. Remember that? Ha ha ha. The seedy, shallow part of me likes watching slightly gentrified Jerry Springer stuff. But the Rosie O’Donnell and Donald Trump thing wasn’t really news, you know? And now this Miss California thing, it’s… uh… it’s not really news. It’s sort of news, but it’s sort of not news, you know?

Anyway, here’s my opinion about Miss California. (because I’m sure you want to hear it! I really do think there’s a shortage of opinions about Miss California in this world. I’m doing my part to spread awareness.) In a way I want to defend her, because I agree with her stance on gay marriage, and she really seems like a good gal, (and, let’s be honest, she’s a looker!)

I also want to defend Prejean’s crown because I think that some liberals are using this scandal to attack Christianity and traditional family values. To be more particular, Keith Olbermann was especially mocking of Christianity and Prejean in this You Tube clip: You probably shouldn’t waste your time watching it like I did, though. I’m sure you have more important things to do, but my point is: They’re being so mean to her!!!!

but uh… I don’t think Miss California and I will become pen pals any time soon. Prejean and I are different types of Christians. I don’t want to defend her too much but I don’t want to criticize her too much, either.

I wouldn’t think that good Christians would dress so immodestly. Of course those semi-nude pictures of her that came out were a mistake she made when she was younger. And I feel like giving her the benefit of the doubt when she says that she didn’t know those pictures were taken- that it was a windy day and the photographer was a meany-pants who released the pictures without her permission.

I guess good Christians can get breast implants, though.

Also, she said in a press conference with Donald Trump recently that she was thankful for men like Donald Trump who organize beauty pageants to “empower women.” Well, I guess that’s not exactly what she said… Here, look, I took the effort to transcribe a little bit of what Ms. Prejean said in a press conference: She said, “Second of all, I would like to thank the Miss California Organization for their support thus forward [sic] and um, again believing in me and believing in, in women, and the empowerment of women and how women can really make a difference in the world.”

(By the way, Prejean has also been criticized for not speaking too well, the same way Sarah Palin was criticized for not speaking too well. But you know who else didn’t speak too well? MOSES!!! I rest my case.)

My problem with Miss California’s statement is that I’m not sure that beauty pageants empower women. What do you think? I suppose they could help girls get attention and praise, and make them feel good about themselves… and the winners do things for charity and I suppose could act as good role models for people… and in a way beauty pageants are a celebration of interior and exterior beauty, which is a wonderful thing to celebrate.

But beauty pageants could also make a lot of girls feel ugly, untalented, and unwanted. And beauty pageants have a tendency to make people focus on shallow things. The media constantly bombards women with images of the “perfect female body,” and so girls think that if their bodies don’t conform to that practically unattainable mold, they’re unloved. I believe that advertising, which is more prevalent today than it has ever been before, distorts our ideas of human beauty. The amount of image manipulation that goes on in magazines, movies, TV shows, pornography, etc. is crazy, and I really do think that stuff like that leads to eating disorders, self-esteem issues, and other negative stuff.

So personally I wouldn’t mind if beauty pageants went away and never came back. I’ve never been a fan of them. But on the other hand, my attitude is, hey if people want to do beauty pageants, I guess they can do beauty pageants. It’s a free country. I don’t want to be involved, though. I suppose as long as people don’t get crazy obsessed with beauty pageants, they might be alright. Oh, but I also maybe think that child beauty pageants should go away. Those can get disturbing.

You know the thing about Carrie Prejean is that she’s a model and she’s a Christian, but she’s not necessarily a model Christian.

Ha! I am so clever!


Saturday, May 16, 2009

Essays from Spring 2009

Dear Readers,

I'm so glad that the spring 2009 semester is over. I had to write a big paper for each one of my literature classes. The first one is for my "woman power!" class, the second one is for my "Columbus was a jerk!" class, and the third one was for my "Communism is a great idea!" class.

I don't really like any of the papers. They're OK. They allowed me to pass the classes, but that's all they're good for. I don't really believe in what I write for school a lot of times, but I feel as though arguing with the teacher or countering the political bent of the class only frustrates everyone and lowers your grade.

Representations of Gender: Mary Prince, Elizabeth Keckley and Frederick Douglass

Throughout much of Western literary history, men have dominated the publishing establishment. Men have predominantly been the authors, the editors, and the publishers, while women have not been afforded a respected place in the world of letters. Because of this unbalanced power structure, representations of women, both fictional and non-fictional, have been askew. Representations of women have been distorted through the lens of patriarchy. Gradually, though, more and more women have become literate. More and more women have had time to read and write for pleasure and for more pressing concerns. More and more women have fought for the right to write and to be published and to be heard. But what happens to the distorted versions of women and femininity when women are the ones telling the story? Do female writers start to represent themselves in a new, liberated way, or do they channel the voice of the patriarchy, reinforcing the old sexist and often misogynistic stereotypes related to gender difference? When it comes to constructing an identity based on gender, from what sources do women draw their inspiration? This paper will look at how Mary Prince and Elizabeth Keckley, authors of The History of Mary Prince, a West Indian Slave Related by Herself and Behind the Scenes: Thirty Years a Slave and Four Years in the White House, respectively, portray themselves as women, and what their words have to say about the social, non-biological differences between the sexes. The representations of gender in those two books will be compared with the way that Frederick Douglass portrays himself as a man in his slave narrative, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass.

Before a discussion of the specific examples of the representations of gender in the texts is begun, a few general thoughts will be devoted to the increasingly slippery concept of autobiography. Much has been written recently about the way that the Self, rather than being a fixed object ripe for scientific scrutiny, is fragmented. Identity is often considered to be a fluid concept, more or less constructed through countless interactions with others and with the environment. Not even writers of autobiographies can fix their own identities in a hard and fast way, for they do not have an objective platform from which to view themselves and write about their lives. In addition, autobiographers have to fight against problems of memory, bias, a limited first-person perspective, and then communicate their experiences to the best of their abilities through the troublesome medium of language. Elizabeth Keckley writes of the difficulty of writing an autobiography or memoir. She writes, “Hour after hour I sit while the scenes are being shifted; and as I gaze upon the panorama of the past, I realize how crowded with incidents my life has been. Every day seems like a romance within itself, and the years grow into ponderous volumes. As I cannot condense, I must omit many strange passages in my history” (Keckley 18). What “strange passages” did she leave out? What “strange passages” is she incapable of remembering or communicating properly? These questions are not satisfactorily answerable. For even if she devoted years and thousands of pages to recording her life story, even if she tried to write down all the minute events of every one of the days of her life, she would still be offering up to the public only a representation of herself, a representation of identity that is tainted by her notions of gender roles.

Harriet Jacobs is also careful to express early on in her book how she cannot represent through the written word the full meaning of her life experiences, nor can she communicate her rich inner psychic life. In one place she writes beautifully and simply, “But my heart is so full, and my pen is so weak,” (Jacobs 28) and in another point in her text, Jacobs addresses the reader directly and says, “…you can imagine, better than I can describe, what an unpleasant sensation it must produce to wake up in the dead of night and find a jealous woman bending over you” (33). In these asides, these breaks from the narrative, Jacobs invites us not rely so much on the words that she has written down, on the adjectives or nouns she has picked to recount her singular life experiences, but rather to rely our own imaginations to fill in the gaps that language naturally leaves. Jacobs wants her readers to try to transport themselves out of their solitary individual identities, out of the limited views they have from the confinements of their own minds and live inside the deep, thick, mental place where true sympathy is born. Our minds picture Jacobs awakening to the horrid sight of a jealous woman standing over her bed, and we forgive the limited power of words to communicate.

It should be understood then, that, to a reasonable extent, autobiographies are not so much a factual retelling of events, but rather a manifestation of the writer’s ideas about identity, the nature of reality, and gender roles.

That being said, it is clear that there are many differences in subject matter and style between slave narratives written by men and slave narratives written by women. The difference that struck me quickly between the experiences related in female slave narratives and the experiences related in male slave narratives was how often women were the victims of sexual abuse. Male slaves, of course, were the victims of abuse, too- mostly verbal and physical and psychological abuse- but in the male slave narratives that I have recently read, (The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano or Gustavus Vassa, the African and the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass) sexual abuse did not occur.

A sampling of quotes will demonstrate the prevalence of female slaves being sexually abused by their slave masters or other men in positions of power. Elizabeth Keckley covers her experiences of sexual abuse very quickly. She does not want to dwell on lurid details of the sexual violence inflicted on her. Perhaps she glosses over these painful memories because at the point in Keckley’s life when she is writing her memoir, she a well-mannered free woman who had spent many years in the White House, arguably the place where etiquette and social propriety are the most crucial. She had spent much of her adult life associating with ladies of high social status, including the First Lady, Mary Todd Lincoln. Perhaps she found it improper to give us explicit details about how she was raped. Her tame and sparse account of her sexual abuse reads, “I was regarded as fair-looking for one of my race, and for four years a white man – I spare the world his name- had base designs upon me. I do not care to dwell on this subject, for it is one that is fraught with pain. Suffice it to say, that he persecuted me for four years, and I-I- became a mother” (Keckley 39).

Jacobs is a little more open about the sexual violence inflicted on her and upon her fellow female sufferers. In Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, we read about the sexual misdeeds of slave masters. “The secrets of slavery are concealed like those of the Inquisition. My master was, to my knowledge, the father of eleven slaves. But did the mothers dare to tell who was the father of their children? … No, indeed! They knew too well the terrible consequences” (Jacobs, 34). Jacobs portrays her fellow female slaves as being locked in humiliating servitude by fear, beaten down by oppression, and kept under control through violence and threats of violence. Even though so many women she knew were raped and impregnated by their white owners, (who, by the way, were being unfaithful to their wives) these women could not come out and say who the father of their baby was. Jacobs implies that even though the facts of parenthood were kept under wraps, many people in the household and in the neighborhood could tell when the mulattoes were born that something was amiss. It probably wasn’t too hard to guess, even without the technology of a DNA test, who the father was. Of course, when Jacobs said these things, she was not tiptoeing around matters to keep up appearances, as Keckley seems to be. Jacobs was a fiery abolitionist who was often more impassioned and sensational in her writing than Keckley was. Jacobs was unafraid to point the finger at the guilty party and expose the truth that many white male slave masters raped and impregnated their slaves, and then never had to fess up and take the responsibility of being the father.

Not only were the female slaves often made the objects of sexual violence and their bodies made to fulfill the lustful and sadistic desires of white slave masters, but women were also oppressed by being kept tightly locked in the domestic sphere. Often female slaves were given duties of tending to white children, which was a never-ending job. Though female slaves may have had more comfortable sleeping conditions in their master’s house rather than in the slaves’ quarters, they were also closer to their oppressors, within their master’s beck and call. Female slaves were often given babies to take care of, which is a never-ending duty; they were always responsible for looking out for the young ones. And if anything bad happened to the babies placed in their stead, the female slaves would be punished severely. Keckley describes, “Mrs. Burwell gave birth to a daughter, a sweet, black-eyed baby, my earliest and fondest pet. To take care of this baby was my first duty. True, I was but a child myself- only four years old” (Keckley 19). At four years old, Keckley was thrust into the duty that would be shared over and over again by a million different female slaves: taking care of children. Think of all the time she could have spent, think of all the things she could have done, outside of the domestic sphere, where she wasn’t bogged down with the duty of taking care of children. Obviously Keckley had a talent for designing and making clothes, and she had a talent for writing. She could have pursued those talents from a very young age, had she had the time. But her position as a slave and her assignment to care for somebody else’s children withheld from her the free time that would have been required for her to develop her talents as well as she would have liked. Indeed, all female slaves lacked what Virgina Woolf’s pled for in her classic feminist essay, A Room of One’s Own: a meager but sufficient living allowance and a private sheltered comfortable space of one’s own.

Much like Keckley’s experience, Mary Prince is oppressed by being forced to take care of children. Mary Prince’s account is the earliest known slave narrative by a woman. It can be safely assumed that her experiences were similar to many other women who lived their lives in bondage throughout the cruel slave trade that flourished in the British Empire. Whereas slave narratives written by males, like the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass and The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano or Gustavus Vassa, the African, recount how the autobiographers are taught “masculine” trades, like carpentry or sailing, slave narratives written by women often explain how women are kept tightly in a domestic grip by being forced into perpetual nanny-hood.

For example, Prince writes, how immediately upon arriving to a new household where she was to work as a slave, “When I went in, I stood up crying in a corner. Mrs. I______ came and took off my hat, a little black silk hat Miss Pruden made for me, and said in a rough voice, ‘You are not come here to stand in corners and cry, you are come here to work.’ She then put a child into my arms, and, as tired as I was, I was forced instantly to take up my old occupation as a nurse” (220). While Douglass had a chisel put into his hand, and Equiano had a compass put into his hands, Prince had babies thrust into her hands. We should not take these examples of women taking care of babies as rare cases, either. When assigning slaves to different jobs, gender was a primary determining characteristic, which helped slave masters decide how to divide up the labor. In fact, Mary Prince herself, obviously a reliable source on the division of labor among slaves and on slave life in general, says that her account may stand as a representative sample of the horrid living conditions of other slaves. She writes in excruciating evocative detail, “Mr. D____ has often stripped me naked, hung me up by the wrists, and beat me with the cow-skin with his own hand, till my body was raw with gashes. Yet there was nothing very remarkable in this; for it might serve as a sample of the common usage of slaves on that horrible island” (Prince 224).

This type of language is often used in slave narratives. The authors want to assure us that their experiences suffering through slavery are not all that unique, but that many millions of other black people were being treated just as badly and suffering just as badly under the cruel system of slavery. Thus, readers sympathetic to the abolitionist cause, whether in America, Britain, or elsewhere, were motivated to do all they could to free the slaves. Unfair treatment based on gender was probably of a secondary concern both to the authors of slave narratives and also to the abolitionists, but the modern reader can see in these slave narratives startling discrepancies between the way women are portrayed and treated and the way men are portrayed and treated. Clearly gender is represented in these narratives not only through the language used to describe and confine the sexes, but by the division of labor. The division of labor among the slaves is so arranged as to enforce an idea that there are fundamental differences between the sexes. That is, that women ought to be in the home, taking care of children, while men are better suited to other tasks requiring physical labor, usually outdoors.

Gender is also represented differently in these narratives when it comes to fighting. All these narratives include relations of episodes of violence. Frequent incidents of violence are not surprising. Indeed, slavery required violence to keep the slaves down, and I would venture to guess that domestic violence was more common in the slavery era than it is currently. But the way that the violence is portrayed is telling of notions of gender in America in the nineteenth century. I want to look particularly at a fight recorded by Elizabeth Keckley and a fight recorded by Frederick Douglass. Keckley describes her long physical struggle with Mr. Bingham, a man who was not her master but who was just a neighborhood man, a member of the church that her master preached at. One day, Mr. Bingham corners Keckley and commands her to take off her dress so that he may flog her. Keckley begins her account of the fight by writing of the impropriety of undressing in front of a man. “Recollect, I was eighteen years of age, was a woman fully developed, and yet this man coolly bade me take down my dress” (33). One can hear the disapproving tone in her voice. Mr. Bingham continues his cruel advances, and Keckley writes, “I resisted with all my strength, but he was the stronger of the two, and after a hard struggle, succeeded in binding my hands and tearing my dress from my back” (34). The confrontation is not portrayed like a sports announcer’s play by play coverage of a boxing match. There isn’t much detail of the struggle at all, really. Also, she does not hesitate to admit that she was physically weaker than Mr. Bingham.

Frederick Douglass, on the other hand, devotes much of his narrative to telling the reader all about his fights with some of his slave masters. One fight in particular is especially long and drawn out. He gives his readers the most-likely exaggerated details of the epic bout between him and an especially cruel slave master, Mr. Covey. Douglass writes:

“Mr. Covey entered the stable with a long rope; and just as I was half out of the loft, he caught hold of my legs, and was about tying me. As soon as I found what he was up to, I gave a sudden spring, and as I did so, he holding to my legs, I was brought sprawling on the stable floor… I resolved to fight… I seized Covey hard by the throat; and as I did so, I rose. He held on to me, and I to him. My resistance was so entirely unexpected, that Covey seemed taken all aback. He trembled like a leaf. This gave me assurance, and I held him uneasy, causing the blood to run where I touched him with the ends of my fingers” (845).

Douglass then gives more and more details about the long, drawn-out fight. He then makes sure to assure the readers, in case they were in doubt as to who actually won the fight, “The truth was, that he [Mr. Covey] had not whipped me at all. I considered him as getting entirely the worst end of the bargain; for he had drawn no blood from me, but I had from him” (845). Douglass is actively constructing his own identity as a powerful male by gloating about his physical powers. Rather than give readers a brief glimpse of his bodily conflicts, as Keckley does, Douglass offers the readers a dramatic, detailed play-by-play account of how he beat up another man, and he makes sure that the audience knows who the manly winner is. Douglass puts more emphasis and significance on the confrontation with Mr. Covey than perhaps is entirely honest. Douglass writes that his increased strength and resolve comes mostly from that single fight. He writes of his confrontation with Covey, “This battle with Mr. Covey was the turning-point in my career as a slave. It rekindled the few expiring embers of freedom, and revived within me a sense of my own manhood… I now resolved that, however long I might remain a slave in form, the day had passed forever when I could be a slave in fact” (845). Keckley, on the other hand, becomes free not through brute force. She does not make a physical confrontation the climax to her narrative. Rather, Keckley becomes free by making dresses in her spare time and saving up enough money until she can eventually buy her freedom- hardly the masculine road to freedom that Douglass claims.

Also, in contrast to Douglass’ masculine bravado, Keckley does not brag about her ability to clobber somebody else. She talks about her fights matter-of-factly, and the way she ultimately “won” one of her fights is also telling. (I have put “won” in quotation marks because, plainly speaking, she lost the fight, but from the struggle Keckley gained a certain amount of peace thereafter.) She wins not through physical prowess, a demonstration of her bodily powers, but through her ability to cause others to feel pity. Whereas Douglass appeals to punches, kicks and strangleholds to persuade his opponents, Keckley uses pathos. Also notice again how little detail Keckley adds to the fight in this passage, as if she is not as interested in the bloody details of fighting as Douglass is: “One morning he [Mr. Bingham] went to the wood-pile, took an oak broom, cut the handle off, and with this heavy handle attempted to conquer me. I fought him, but he proved the strongest. At the sight of my bleeding form, his wife fell upon her knees and begged him to desist. My distress even touched her cold, jealous heart” (Keckley 37, 38). It was only by the pathetic sight of her bruised and damaged body that her masters were persuaded to stop beating her. She was physically incapable of overpowering her tormenters.

From these brief examples, we can see that male and female slaves generally represented themselves in different ways, according to gender. The female slave narratives often told of sexual violence that they underwent, whereas male slave narratives make no mention of it. Though it’s probably safe to assume that the rape or sexual assault of male slaves did occur in the antebellum South or in some of the British colonies, I have not yet encountered a male slave narrative that treats this subject. Also, black enslaved women were more often confined to housework. They were forced to be maids, cooks, and nannies, whereas the males were mostly made to work outside, and were often taught trades, such as carpentry, blacksmithing, or sailing. These experiences of work, this division of labor based on gender, heavily influenced the way that male and female slaves considered themselves and constructed their own identities. For, to a large extent, we are what we do. The labor that we spend much of our lives performing heavily influences our concept of Self. It was no different for Elizabeth Keckley, Frederick Douglass, and others. They were taught that it was “natural” for women to be confined to domestic affairs and that it was “natural” for men to be engaged in work outside the home. How “natural” these gender roles are was not so much based on biological evidence, but on human constructions, social institutions of a bygone era and on mores that subtly and slowly indoctrinate to people the supposedly innate differences between the sexes. Male and female slaves also represent themselves differently when they write about fights. Male slaves tended to embellish fights, give plenty of details about them, and boast about their own strength, while the female narratives haven’t concentrated so much on those things.

Gender certainly is represented differently by the authors of these slave narratives. But one thing that the authors of all these narratives have in common, regardless of their gender, is their enormous sense of dignity. Even though they have been abused and subjected to the unspeakable ills of a horrid system of slavery based on race, each one of them has, one way or another, come out of the experience free and strong, ready to fight for the end of slavery. It was necessary to overthrow the cruel system of slavery before a more progressive view of gender roles and identity could be sought after.

Works Cited

Douglass, Frederick. “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass.” The American
Tradition in Literature. 9th ed. Eds. George Perkins and Barbara Perkins. New York: Mc-Graw-Hill College 1999. 833-845.

Jacobs, Harriet. Incidents in the life of a Slave Girl. New York: Harcourt Brace
Jovanovich, 1973.

Keckley, Elizabeth. Behind the Scenes: Thrity Years a Slave and Four Years in the
White House
. New York: Arno Press,1968.

Prince, Mary. “The History of Mary Prince, a West Indian Slave, Related by Herself.”
The Longman Anthology of British Literature. Vol. 2A 3rd ed. Eds. Susan Wolfson and Peter Manning. New York: Pearson Longman, 2006. 219-224.

A Postcolonial View of Ethnographies

The first ethnographies of the New World were not written by anthropologists. The earliest accounts of the native peoples, such as those by Christopher Columbus, were written by European explorers and conquerors. Both postcolonial critics and modern casual readers of early accounts, which can serve as proto-ethnographies, can easily see in those documents the reflections of a racist, imperialist ideology. As the centuries have passed, and as anthropology as an academic discipline has emerged, new accounts of “native” or “primitive” peoples have been created. But how different are the twentieth century accounts from the earlier accounts? Over the years, how much have those racist and backward ideologies been weeded out through academic rigor and a quest for neutrality? How successful have academics been in escaping their own ideologies as they attempt to describe other cultures? Western cultural anthropologists have a long way to go before their ethnographies are free of dominant polarizing ideologies, ideologies that, without actually using the words “civilized” and “barbarous,” reinforce those antiquated notions. If cultural anthropologists who write ethnographies cannot describe indigenous peoples without abandoning or suppressing such ideologies, then they should simply stay home.

The writings of Christopher Columbus are replete with demeaning depictions of Native Americans. He characterizes them variously as being easy to be fooled, easy to be conquered, docile, and as ripe for Christian conversion and enslavement. In short, Columbus characterizes them as perfect human fodder for an expanding Empire. For example, in his log chronicling his first voyage to the New World, in the entry dated October 12th, 1492, Columbus writes about the indigenous people of the Bahamas. “They are friendly and well-dispositioned people who bare no arms except for small spears, and they have no iron. I showed one my sword, and through ignorance he grabbed it by the blade and cut himself” (The Log of Christopher Columbus 76). Columbus also describes the people as being more than willing to give up their possessions to the men from the Old World. “This afternoon the people of San Salvador came swimming to our ships and in boats made from one log. They brought us parrots, balls of cotton thread, spears, and many other things, including a kind of dry leaf that they hold in great esteem. For these items we swapped them little glass beads and hawks’ bells” (76). Not noticing the people’s foreign spirituality, Columbus also depicts the Native Americans as irreligious. He writes, “I think they can easily be made Christians, for they seem to have no religion. If it pleases Our Lord, I will take six of them to Your Highness when I depart, in order that they may learn our language.” (77) It is clear from these quotes, and others not listed here, that Columbus was not very interested in the culture of the people he encountered. He was not careful enough to notice their non-Christian spirituality, but he did manage to find time to notice their domicile character and their bad bargaining abilities. Columbus had no intention of leaving the island and its inhabitants the way he found it, or of staying aloof from the foreign culture that he found. Instead, he seems to have no reservations about taking possession of islands and all their contents, and he expresses no inner moral qualms about taking some of the natives back to Spain, though he cannot understand the natives’ language, and therefore could not get the natives informed consent. Notice that Columbus never considers learning the native language of the people he finds. Rather, he assumes that the natives ought to learn Spanish, in addition to Christianity and submission to the Spanish crown.

The same sort of rhetoric concerning Columbus’ natives can be found in many different travel texts and in many different descriptions of the manners and customs of indigenous peoples of Africa, Australia, North America, South America, hundreds of islands of the Pacific and the Atlantic Oceans, and just about anywhere that European explorers/conquerors encountered indigenous people. More than three centuries after Columbus described the Native Americans in his log, John Barrow describes the Bushmen in his book, An Account of Travels into the Interior of Southern Africa in the Years 1797 and 1798. While European contemporaries of Barrow might have not found anything offensive about the description of the Bushmen in his travel narrative, modern readers have taken issue with the ideology that is reflected in Barrow’s account.

Mary Louise Pratt, a modern scholar operating from a postcolonial perspective, criticizes Barrow’s descriptions of the Bushmen. Pratt explains that Barrow did not describe the indigenous people of Southern Africa as people possessing a fluid, diverse culture, but rather he depicted them as a fixed subject, bound in time and space. Such a description was a stark contrast to Barrow’s representation of his own culture, which was more “civilized,” objective, and free to traverse time and space. Barrow provided for his European audience a product description of his fixed subject, which description consisted of a neatly defined list of characteristics. These enumerated characteristics usually have to do with how simple the Bushmen are, and how easy they are to conquer, much like Columbus’ descriptions of the indigenous people of the Bahamas. Pratt quotes and criticizes Barrow’s description of the quintessential Bushman, “In his disposition he is lively and cheerful.” (An Account of Travels… 119) Pratt explains that, much like other descriptions of native peoples, Barrow reduces the diverse, plentiful population he encounters to a fixed ‘they’ and then reduces the fixed ‘they’ into a fixed ‘he.’ The ‘he’ that Barrow describes is “the standardized adult male specimen” (Pratt 120) and is meant to act as a representative sample of the rest of the population.

Drawbacks to descriptions like these are obvious. Descriptions that oversimplify a culture, that virtually ignore the diversity among peoples, and that ignore differences among a group of people caused by age, gender, social standing, genetic differences, and by plain individual personalities, do a disservice to the people being described, do a disservice to the people reading or hearing the description, and ultimately do a disservice to the describers.

In addition to distilling a complex culture into a single “standardized male specimen” (Scratches on the Face… 120) Barrow did not devote very many pages to the people he encountered. Much more of the book is devoted to the weather, the natural resources, the environment, the geography, and the course taken by Barrow and his men. An attempt on Barrow’s part to understand the complex social or psychological workings of the people was not made. Barrow wrote about the Bushmen as not being too different than the bushes and trees he took extensive note of, for to Barrow, both the people and the vegetation were both merely products of the natural world. The same complaint can be made of Christopher Columbus’ log. Columbus spends pages and pages writing about the directions he took, the sailing conditions during his journey, and the distances between islands. In one sense, Columbus’ lack of interest in the culture of the people he conquered is not surprising. Columbus wrote about practical matters that would be useful to further exploration and empire-building. He construed his voyages in such a way as to please the sponsors of his journey, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. Likewise, Barrow wrote about what would appeal to his European audience, who were less interested in appreciating a foreign culture than they were in hearing about how the British Empire could be expanded.

Pratt points out that nearly no interaction between Barrow and the Bushmen is described. It is as if Barrow, as he writes his account, takes himself out of the equation, and is free to describe, categorize, and assume things about the people he encounters, but does not give himself or his crew the same scrutinizing treatment. The explorers present themselves as free to be the describers of the Other, and as the nearly omniscient narrators of reality. Pratt writes that in Barrow’s narrative, “The cold is presented chiefly as a fact about the weather, not as a discomfort they endured” (123). Thus, even though the book is essentially a personal narrative, a description of a man’s journey through a relatively unexplored part of Africa, Barrow portrays himself as something like an encyclopedia writer: objective, neutral, and scientific. He practically writes in third person and in passive voice, so that Barrow is not percieved as doing the action; rather, he is perceived as just reporting on the action that has been done.

More than a century after Barrow’s exploration into Southern Africa, Franz Boas becomes a pioneer in the academic field of anthropology. Boas attempts to apply the scientific method, previously used for studying the natural world, to the study of humans. As part of his and other anthropologists’ research, it was required to do “fieldwork.” Cultural anthropologists were to leave their university, move to a distant land, and write ethnographies of the people they found. As part of the cultural immersion process, cultural anthropologists doing field work were supposed to learn the language of the people and, as objectively as possible, write a description of the culture.

My question is, with respect to ideology and motivation, how different are the proto-ethnographies of Christopher Columbus and John Barrow from the ethnographies of modern cultural anthropologists? To be fair, the motivations and concerns of the modern cultural anthropologist are obviously very different from the motivations and concerns of colonizers. Columbus and Barrow journeyed to faraway lands because they were interested in making a profit, in building an empire, and in fundamentally changing the culture of the people they encountered. Perhaps subconsciously, colonizers also were interested in creating the Self and the Other. When they interacted with indigenous peoples, wrote about them, and told tall tales about them, the colonizers were comparing their own “civilized” culture to the “primitive” culture they “discovered.” Anthropologists, on the other hand, are not out for a profit, but often find themselves thousands of miles from home in an attempt to gain more knowledge about the cultures of the world and about human nature. They are not interested in changing the cultures of the people they study. Anthropologists are not missionaries or conquerors; instead they are supposed to be passive observers, interfering with a people’s normal lives as little as possible. But the fieldwork of Western anthropologists is also motivated by an egotistical desire to compare oneself to those of a more “primitive” culture. Much like Columbus, Barrow, and others did, modern anthropologists take comfort in defining themselves in comparison to the Other.

Argonauts of the Western Pacific, by Bronislaw Malinowski, is a modern ethnography which exemplifies the type of egoism that enjoys the comparing of one’s own culture to another culture and determining which one is “superior”. In that extensive work, Malinowski reports extensively on the customs of the indigenous peoples of the islands of New Guinea. According to James Clifford, Malinowski’s years-long research among the islanders rejects “a certain style of research: living among fellow whites, calling up ‘informants’ to talk culture in an encampment or on a verandah, sallying forth to ‘do the village.’ The fieldwork Malinowski dramatized required one to live full time in the village, learn the language, and be a seriously involved participant observer” (Travelling Cultures 97,98). Indeed, in Malinowski’s Introduction, he describes how he lived among the natives, learned their language, and, as much as possible, became a part of the tribe he was studying. Malinowski assures his readers that he “acquired ‘the feeling’ for native good and bad manners. With this, and with the capacity of enjoying their company and sharing some of their games and amusements, I began to feel that I was indeed in touch with the natives” (Argonauts of the Western Pacific 8).

In some ways, I applaud Malinowski’s attempt to respect the culture he is studying. Unlike Columbus, Malinowski learns the native language. He does not take an army of men with him to convert the Argonauts to Western ways; rather he goes alone, unarmed. But in other ways, despite his stated intentions for scientific progress and humanistic exploration, Malinowski still carries with him some of the dominant ideology that has motivated colonizers of bygone eras to travel to distant lands. For example, I noticed that Malinowski does not thank the native people of New Guinea in his Foreword or in his Acknowledgements. He thanks those who financially sponsored his research, he thanks some of his past anthropology professors, he thanks fellow researchers who have given him feedback on his manuscript, and plenty of other white men, but he does not thank the people of New Guinea, the people he lived with and studied. Perhaps he did not include them in his expressions of gratitude because he knew that the Argonauts would most likely never read the published book. Still, thanking them would have been a nice gesture. A thank-you would have helped to characterize the Argonauts as people, rather than merely as test subjects, which is how much of the book tends to treat the natives and their village; the village is like a science laboratory and the people are like rats that are experimented upon. Their movements are tracked, and their behavior is meticulously written down. Surely Malinowski would have put the indigenous people under a microscope, if he had had a microscope large enough.

Malinowski also readily terms the natives of the islands he visits, “savages,” and calls their homeland “savage countries” (xv). Perhaps we can dismiss that offensive-sounding terminology as only being part of the nomenclature of the 1920s, and not an expression of Malinowski’s bigoted attitudes towards non-Western people.

Another passage, though, from Argonauts of the Western Pacific struck me as reinforcing the supposed superiority of Western, “civilized” culture. Malinowski writes, “the native is not the natural companion for a white man, and after you have been working with him for several hours, seeing how he does his gardens, or letting him tell you items of folk-lore, or discussing his customs, you will naturally hanker after the company of your own kind” (7). In other words, Malinowski emphasizes that there is an inherent difference between “us” and “them,” between “Self” and “Other.” And an exposure to those inherent differences between the native and the white man, Malinowski leads us to believe, encourages one to quickly realize that the culture of the white man’s or anthropologist’s culture is more naturally enjoyable than native culture.

Malinowski’s mammoth ethnography was published in 1922, and since then, fieldwork of cultural anthropologists has continued. The emergence of postcolonial studies, though, has surely helped to refine the attitudes of those who undertake the study of human culture. Cultural anthropologists are starting to turn the scientific eye upon their own cultures. For example, when Dr. Matthews, and English professor at Northern Arizona University, considered majoring in anthropology at the University of London in the 1970s, the admissions counselors told her that she would not be sent to a remote island or a “third-world country” to study so-called “primitive” peoples. Rather, they would send her back to her home country of Scotland, to study her own people. Such was the progressive attitude of the University of London. In a similar vein, Cathy Small, a professor of anthropology at Northern Arizona University, wrote an ethnography of the University at which she teaches. She disguised herself as a freshman, lived in a dormitory, ate at the campus cafeteria, enrolled as a full-time student, and otherwise lived as a college freshman at NAU. The book that resulted was My Freshman Year: What A Professor Learned by Becoming a Student. That type of research marks a great departure from the descriptions and “ethnographies” of Columbus, Barrow, and even Malinowski.

In my view, postcolonial studies and a burgeoning general political awareness of the atrocities attendant to colonialism have helped to make the work of cultural anthropologists more ethical. James Clifford has additional suggestions about how ethnographers should study other cultures and write ethnographies in a way that does not perpetuate the binary of “Self” and “Other,” and in a way that is more honest and respectful. In Travelling Cultures, Clifford recommends the inclusion of four elements that are too often left out of ethnographies: 1) transportation; that is, how the researcher got to the “field” or the “village.” 2) the capital city of the ethnographer; that is, the culture and ideology from which the fieldworker originates. 3) the University home of the ethnographer, and 4) “the sites and relations of translation;” that is, a more thorough discussion of the process of how the information was gathered, because typically translators and informants are either minimized or left out altogether of accounts (Travelling Cultures 100). In effect, by asking ethnographers to include these four elements in their accounts, Clifford is asking them to do exactly the opposite of what Barrow did in his description of the Bushmen. Clifford wants ethnographers to include themselves in their narratives, to refrain from feigning an objectivity which often implies Western superiority over “primitive” peoples.

In addition to Clifford’s advice, I have some recommendations of my own for cultural anthropologists who wish to study a culture which appears very different than their own. I do not dismiss the academic discipline of cultural anthropology and the practice of cross-cultural comparison altogether because it has in the past tended to perpetuate colonial idiologies. I, like James Clifford, and like Bronislaw Malinowski, believe that much good information and many good ideas have peacefully spawned from anthropologists doing fieldwork and writing ethnographies. In the words of Malinowski, this work has allowed “students of comparative Ethnology [to draw] some very important conclusions on the origin of human customs, beliefs and institutions; on the history of cultures, and their spread and contact; on the laws of human behavior in society, and of the human mind” (Argonauts of the Western Pacific xv).

I recommend that anthropologists adopt an attitude of humility when approaching another culture. I recommend a willingness to subject themselves and their culture to the same sort of scrutiny that they are imposing on other cultures. An attitude such as this will go a long way in destroying the racist and imperialist discourses of the past and in opening up a more progressive type of anthropological fieldwork. If an attitude of humility is not espoused, then it would be better for all parties involved if anthropologists simply stayed home to either study their own culture or selected a new intellectual hobby.

Works Cited

Clifford, James. Travelling Cultures (I could not find the rest of the citation.)

Columbus, Christopher. The Log of Christopher Columbus. Trans. Robert H. Fuson. Camden,
Maine: International Marine Publishing Company, 1987.

Malinowski, Bronislaw. Argonauts of the Western Pacific. New York: E. P. Dutton & Co., Inc.,

Platt, Mary Louise. “Scratches on the Face of the Country; Or, What Mr. Barrow Saw in the Land of the Bushmen.” Critical Inquiry 12.1 (1985): 119-143

Pedagogical Gold: Teaching Jews Without Money at the Secondary Level

As far as I can tell, Jews Without Money by Michael Gold has not been taught at the secondary level. It may have been taught in American high schools, most likely in the 1930s or the 1960s, but if it was taught, I have found no evidence for it. However, a very similar book, in content, style, and political agenda, The Jungle by Upton Sinclair, has been widely taught in many public high schools, and has received mixed reactions from parents, students, teachers, and administrators. Because of the similarities between the two books, some of the lessons learned from teaching The Jungle can be applied to the potential teaching of Jews Without Money. This paper will explore the possibility of including Jews Without Money in a high school curriculum, and will argue for the positive benefits that would result from such an inclusion.

The teaching of The Jungle has been challenged in some schools. To be fair, there is much about the book to make parents and administrators wary of an English teacher teaching it. For example, there are gruesome details of the conditions of the turn of the century Chicago meatpacking industry, the criticism of capitalism, the endorsement of socialism, and the “unpatriotic” life of the author. But, as long as teachers handle controversial texts well, there is not much reason for parents to be concerned. By and large, The Jungle has been successfully incorporated into thousands of public high school English classrooms, which leads me to believe that an equally controversial book, Jews Without Money, could also be successfully taught.
Of course, a teacher should not teach a controversial book just for the sake of being controversial. English teachers must have a sound rationale ready for parents or administrators who challenge the worth or appropriateness of teaching material that might push the envelope.

One justification for teaching the book is that, in the hands of a wise teacher, Jews Without Money can help students fulfill state and national standards. The National Council of the Teachers of English(NCTE) and the International Reading Association(IRA) have published twelve standards to guide Language Arts instruction. These standards have been adopted by many English teachers across the country who use these standards to plan and justify curriculums. Among these standards are number two: “Students read a wide range of literature from many periods in many genres to build an understanding of the many dimensions (e.g., philosophical, ethical, aesthetic) of human experience.” Clearly, teaching Jews Without Money provides students with an understanding of a world different than their own. By studying Jews Without Money, Non-Jewish students will begin to appreciate what it’s like to be Jewish, upper-class students will begin to appreciate what it’s like to be lower-class, and rural-dwelling students will begin to appreciate what it’s like to be urban-dwelling, particularly what it’s like to live in the Lower East Side of Manhattan in the early twentieth century. Jews Without Money also lends itself to fulfilling ninth NCTE/IRA standard: “Students develop an understanding of and respect for diversity in language use, patterns, and dialects across cultures, ethnic groups, geographic regions, and social roles.”

In addition to national standards, the teaching of Mike Gold’s novel can also be used to fulfill state standards for language arts instruction. Standards vary from state to state, but on a certain level, all state standards have the same focus. All the state standards in language arts instruction have to do with reading and writing at a certain proficiency level. Realistically, as long as a teacher is familiar with the state standards, then he or she can use them to justify the teaching of just about any well-written book, because any well-written book provides the raw linguistic material for students to learn from.

Because of the nature of language arts as a discipline, the standards for language arts instruction are less content-driven and more skills-driven. What books in particular are being read in high school classrooms doesn’t matter so much as the fact that books are actually being read. Whereas other subjects, such as history, have standards that require students to learn certain specific subject matter, as expressed in this Arizona state standard for a high school American History class: “Concept 4: Revolution and New Nation PO 1. Assess the economic, political, and social reasons for the American Revolution: a. British attempts to tax and regulate colonial trade as a result of the French and Indian War b. colonists’ reaction to British policy ideas expressed in the Declaration of Independence.”

If particular subject matter is not required of English classrooms by the curriculum-makers that be, (e.g. textbook writers, standardized test creators, state and federal standard writers) then individual English teachers and English departments can enjoy the autonomy to choose which books will best help their students meet the standards. That said, the question becomes, “If nearly any well-written book will do, then why should a teacher pick a controversial text? Why don’t teachers stick to texts that are least likely to offend anyone, if all texts have the potential to teach students English?” My response is that English teachers should do all they can to provide students with reading material that is interesting. And “interesting” oftentimes means “controversial”. Also, it’s helpful to look at the justification for teaching sensitive course material at the University setting. Northern Arizona University provides this statement in many of its course syllabi: "University education aims to expand student understanding and awareness.
Thus, it necessarily involves engagement with a wide range of information, ideas, and creative representations. In the course of college studies, students can expect to encounter -- and critically appraise -- materials that may differ from and perhaps challenge familiar understandings, ideas, and beliefs. Students are encouraged to discuss these matters with faculty." The same type of statement could easily be applied to secondary education.

Also, parents and students should understand that reading controversial subject matter does not automatically convert one to a particular ideology. Exposure to controversial texts can actually help to reinforce traditional beliefs. For example, after reading Jews Without Money, a faithful Christian student could just as easily have his faith steadied as he could have his faith waver. Or, his faith could not remain unaffected. Likewise, a proponent of capitalism will most likely remain a proponent of capitalism after reading Gold’s book. (The author of this paper, by the way, is a fan of capitalism, and also a fan of Jews Without Money.)

Jews Without Money is a book that can easily interest today’s high school students. The book brings up so many hot-button issues that would be good to talk about in a high school English class, like race, class, gender, religion, socio-economic status, economic systems, the justification of strikes, government, social mobility, nurture vs. nature, the authenticity of autobiographies, and the list goes on and on. Several essay prompts or discussion questions spring to mind: What does Michael Gold have to say about gender in Jews Without Money? How does he portray and talk about males and females differently? How do Gold’s experiences growing up compare to your experiences growing up? Do you think you would be pretty much the same person as you are now if you had grown up in the same sort of situation that Michael Gold grew up in? What does Jews Without Money say about nature? Find examples in the book of Gold’s thoughts on nature, like the weeds growing between the cracks in the sidewalk, and the whole “Mushrooms in Bronx Park” chapter. Do you think it’s biologically and spiritually healthy for humans to live in tenements in crowded cities, or are humans better off living on a farm or a ranch, or at least in a house with a yard? Gold pretty clearly endorses communism at the end of the autobiographical novel. Does that view hurt the literary value of the book? What are the problems that Gold brings up in his novel? What are the solutions to those problems? How do your solutions differ from Gold’s solutions?

Open-ended prompts like these will allow students to think critically about a number of issues. Questions like these will get students to read the book closely and learn how to integrate English ideas such as motifs, themes, author’s intent, symbolism, and etc. into their essays. Questions like these will also help students relate their learning to other content they are learning in other classes. Also, for those schools that encourage team-teaching and interdisciplinary collaboration, Jews Without Money could be taught in conjunction with an American History course, or a government/ economics course, social studies, or a journalism course. The non-fiction subject matter of the book lends itself to an interdisciplinary treatment.

A study of Jews Without Money provides students with an opportunity to practice and refine their scholastic skills, and it will help them to become aware of the plight of minorities and lower classes. This is important because part of the purpose of an education is to make people aware of the world outside of one’s immediate surroundings. I feel that it is important that students understand that the events that are chronicled in Jews Without Money aren’t outdated or irrelevant to today’s society. On the contrary, the issues in Gold’s book are current. We still have the poor among us, and we still have immigrants facing challenges in the workplace, but now instead of Jewish or Italian immigrants bearing the brunt of unethical, greedy capitalism, we have Latino immigrants, usually undocumented workers, doing the dirty work.

What Christopher Phelps says about the relevancy of The Jungle can be applied to the relevancy of Jews Without Money: “Today the meatpacking work force once again consists largely of vulnerable new immigrants, arriving from Latin America, Asia, and Africa, in contrast to the Eastern Europe of Sinclair's time. Were The Jungle written today, the name Jurgis Rudkus would have to be replaced by JosĂ© Ramirez. Would much else need to be changed?”
Jews Without Money, like The Jungle, could be taught as a step in American progress. We can say to our students, when we’ve complete reading the book, “Look how far our country has come since the 1930s. Look how tenement housing has been improved. Look how the process of getting a loan for a home has improved. Look how child labor laws and labor unions have improved working conditions.” We could also use the book to draw attention to the injustices that still prevail in much of the world, both foreign and domestic. Even though the book itself has a political agenda, we don’t have to teach our students to subscribe to the agenda the book puts forth. Teachers can effectively say, “Look, these are the ideas of Michael Gold. There are a lot of other ideas by a lot of other people. Let’s compare, contrast, and discuss them.”

Uncomfortable confrontations can usually be avoided if teachers are ready with a rationale for teaching a potentially controversial book, such as a rationale as outlined above. But there are additional measures teachers can take to safeguard themselves against controversy. One thing teachers can do is establish a reputation as a high-quality teacher before teaching a controversial book. It’s probably not the best idea to teach Jews Without Money during one’s first year of teaching, or during the first year in a new school district. It’s probably safer to stick to materials found in textbooks and anthologies specifically designed for high school, and to teach books that have already been taught by colleagues.

Also, teachers should ensure that they have the backing of the administration before attempting to teach any book.

Teachers can also avoid controversy if they postpone teaching a controversial book until late in the school year, when the students are more prepared for it. Many teachers distribute a list of the books the students will read at the beginning of the semester and have the parents sign a contract saying that they approve of the books their child will be reading. Overall, being upfront, honest, friendly, and transparent will go a long way to help teachers avoid controversy while teaching potentially controversial books. Those positive traits will also help students get the most out of their time in an English classroom.

Teachers can avoid marking themselves as political radicals if they teach controversial texts in addition to books already well-known and accepted, like Lord of the Flies and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. It might also be a good idea to incorporate patriotic activities into one’s curriculum, such as having students memorizes the preamble to the Constitution, or having a large portrait of Abraham Lincoln on the wall.

Moving on, what is it in Jews Without Money that has the potential to get parents dialing the principal’s number and demanding an English teacher’s resignation or termination? First off, one of the early chapters, Fifty Cents a Night, is about the work of prostitutes. While it does not detail sex very explicitly, it does deal with prostitution in a very blunt way. Also, the nickname of one of Mikey’s friends is a racial slur, the n-word, and that word was probably the straw that broke the camel’s back for The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn being banned in some cases. But perhaps the most controversial aspect of the book, though, would be the ending, with its clear endorsement of socialism/communism and rejection of religion. Gold calls the worker’s revolution “the true Messiah” (Gold 309). It is best for teachers to be aware of the potential issues well ahead of time, so that teachers can be ready to answer any complaints. A list of all the book’s potentially troublesome characteristics in this paper is not necessary.

I would like to close with a larger reason why teaching a book like Jews Without Money is worthwhile. Cary Nelson, in his book Repression and Recovery, says that both McCarthyism and New Criticism sensibilities have silenced so much of proletarian literature that huge portions of left-leaning poetry and prose have been completely forgotten. But that which has been forgotten is a part of our American culture and history. Nelson recommends that in order to see a fuller picture of America, much work needs to be done to resurrect some of the work of wonderful writers from the first half of the twentieth century. It is my opinion that a public high school is a worthy hub of dissemination for proletarian literature.

Works Cited

Gold, Michael. Jews Without Money. New York: Carroll & Graff Publishers, 2004.

Nelson, Cary. Repression and Recovery: Modern American Poetry and the Politics of Cultural
Memory 1910-1945
. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1989.

Phelps, Christopher. “How Should We Teach ‘The Jungle’?” Chronicle of Higher Education v.
52.26 (2006): 10-12.

Sinclair, Upton. The Jungle. New York: Heritage Press, 1965.