Rochester: A City of Quality & Poverty (thoughts on contradiction)

In class today we spent some time discussing contradictions and dichotomies, and how the concept of “both/and” subverts the concept of “either/or.” The short film, “Rochester: A City of Quality” that Professor McCoy showed us in class today was filled with contradictions. Here are the links to the specific ones I noticed in the short film:

An artist glacier / volatile glacier

Tough / gentle surgery

Controlled abundance

Tough / tender

I also wanted to share this parody video I found called “Rochester: A City of Poverty” which serves to contradict the original short film created in 1963.

Continue reading “Rochester: A City of Quality & Poverty (thoughts on contradiction)”

Women and Mental Illness

In class today, I brought up the dichotomy of two forms of protection utilized by the women in Morrison’s works- those with mental walls, and those wielding physical weapons. It seems to be the case that the “strong Woman”, even Hillary Clinton, has been subject to adjectives like cold, and crazy. Those who have put up these psychological walls are looked upon poorly, the feminist movement taking the brunt of this blame. On the opposite side is those who choose to wield weapons like knives, guns, and pepper spray to protect themselves. This takes little to no blame (aside from gun control advocation as a whole) as people understand women to be physically disadvantaged, and in need of such protection. And so it follows, that society thinks that women do not need to protect their minds and autonomy, and become defensive of their right to exist mentally equal to men; but they should protect their physical vulnerability. And this could easily carry into a discussion of rape and the vile concept of women “asking for it” based on clothing choice, but that is a lengthy and heated discussion for a different post. I found this interesting because it is 2016, and women still need to put up these walls, to carry these weapons; if society has not grown past the gender inequality that transcends race, religion, nationality, etc, how can it hope to make it past the plethora of other instances of inequality as well?

In addition to this, I found an article discussing the differences in the instances of mental illness in men and women, written by Jason and Daniel Freemen. They cite the Center for Disease Control in stating that women are far more likely to suffer from illnesses like depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and insomnia than men. Whereas their male counterparts more often suffer from alcoholism, violent tendencies, and anti-social personality disorder, which are markedly more prone to displays of their issues. They cite stigma (like that of the “crazy woman” persona), lower pay, higher body expectations, and difference in home life responsibilities as reasons why women may tend to keep their illnesses to themselves, whereas men may have more freedom to express themselves without as great a cause for worry. Think about it, what sounds more like an illness: Alcoholism, or Bipolar Depression? Each is a serious mental illness that requires extensive treatment, but one carries more of a “sickness” label than the other. This is not to say that men can’t have depression and women can’t be alcoholics, but the instance of each illness is more prone to the opposite gender.

In a research study by the US National Library of Medicine, Medical professionals discuss specifically African American Women’s beliefs concerning mental health, it stated that “They believed that an individual develops depression due to having a “weak mind, poor health, a troubled spirit, and lack of self-love.” These women also identified stigma as a significant barrier to seeking mental health services.” This attitude is a learned behavior, meaning that it is likely rooted in cultural beliefs and child-rearing practices, which have taught much of the African-American population, like all women but African American women specifically here, that the only way to survive in a world that they are born into pre-stigmatized, is to build walls and remain strong, even when in truth they should be seeking help. And such is the ultimate stigma to mental health, regardless of gender or race- people are terrified that once they allow themselves to be labelled ill, they become less of a person. And this is an especially painful concept to Women around the world, and the African American community, and by no means should be this way. Mental illness deserves recognition and kindness, just like any other physical illness. Its like considering someone to be less than who they are, just because they have fought and survived cancer.


~Here are some articles discussing mental illness, women, and stigma:

~This last one addresses specifically African American Women’s views on mental health:

Violet’s Parrot

In my reading of Jazz up until the requirements for today’s class, I have been trying to unpack a reoccurring instance that has caught my attention, Violet’s Parrot. I began with a rather obvious initial question– Why a parrot? In an attempt to better understand Morrison’s intent in including the bird in the text, I began my search with a reading of a New York Times Review “My Parrot, My Self:

From the article, it is clear that the author believes that the allure of parrots exists in both the literary world and the “real” world. The author speaks of the BBC covering dozens of stories about parrots, almost every one “prefigured in a folk tale, novel, or poem.” The author specifically focuses on “Speke Parrot”, a poem written in the early 1520’s by Henry VIII’s poet laureate, John Skelton. In this poem, the parrot uses many different languages, and comes to serve as a complication to the argument that the general difference between humans and animals is the acquisition of language. This aspect, layered with the mention of birds in Dante’s inferno in the ring of the lustful, suggests that the Parrot’s inclusion in Morrison’s text highlights the animalistic nature of submitting to lust. Further, this relates to our class discussion about what actually defines the “pure and impure”. As a class, we concluded that Morrison creates many dichotomies when dealing with purity. Thus, the Parrot contributes the muddying of “innocence” when referring to sexuality and virginity within the text.

Continue reading “Violet’s Parrot”

Dante and Florence

While researching Dante and the Paradiso (I’m also taking Poetry and Cosmology, which employs Paradiso,) I stumbled upon some very amusing historical information that might give context to Toni Morrison’s relation to the text when writing her own paradise trilogy.  Dante isn’t buried in his home city of Florence, much to the agony of the Florentines.  Florence possesses a great shrine containing the likes of Florentine legends Michelangelo, Galileo, Rossini, and Machiavelli.  There is a tomb for Dante, and despite the assurances of the tour guides, the tomb is empty.  Dante is buried where he died in Ravenna.  In 1302, Dante was exiled from Florence by the reigning Black Guelf party and their patron Pope Boniface.  Dante became a political party of one, alone against the papacy and the city of Florence.   Without any legal authority, he had to rely on his writing to forment various trouble for the black Guelfs, including convincing the monarch Henry VII of France to sack Florence and install a new governing political power.  I can’t help but think of the classic saying ‘the pen is mightier than the sword’ when I read of the troubles Dante caused for the Guelfs.  Mere political warfare wasn’t enough for Dante, he stabbed at the Guelf’s and papacy’s base of moral authority.  When Dante wrote the Divine Comedy, he threw many Guelfs and former popes into the depths of the Inferno for their various crimes.  Dante gave the politically maneuvering Boniface up the honor of being an icon of sin, destined to be thrown into hell upon his death.  During canto XIX, the previous pope Nicholas III mistakes Dante for Boniface and calls him out for his greed, rape, and foul tongue;

I stood as does the friar who confesses

the foul assassin who, fixed fast, head down,

calls back the friar, and so delays his death;

and he cried out: “Are you already standing,

already standing there, o Boniface?

The book has lied to me by several years.

Are you so quickly sated with the riches

for which you did not fear to take by guile

the Lovely Lady, then to violate her?”

And I became like those who stand as if

they have been mocked, who cannot understand

what has been said to them and can’t respond. (Inf. XIX, 49-60).

Given that Dante is considered the greatest poet of all time, and his depiction of hell is the foundation of all subsequent depictions, I have to think that his immortal writing skills won out over the fleeting power of his enemies.

Dante eventually was invited to Ravenna, where he finished his Divine Comedy, and died in 1321.  After realizing their lost son was the greatest poet in human history and the founder of modern Italian, Florence demanded Ravenna give his body back.  When Ravenna refused, Florence received Papal authority to retrieve Dante’s body.  They received a coffin filled with rocks.  True to Dante’s last wishes and sentiments of ‘screw Florence and the Pope,’ Ravenna had refused, and his body was eventually enshrined in a small church in Ravenna.  I have it on good authority to not remind the Florentines, or you won’t leave Florence in one piece.

That was the historical background of Dante; he was a writer who suffered severe wrongs in his life.  He was ruined by the dominant political and moral forces of his time and homeland.  When he resisted, all he had to fight against their overwhelming military and political power was his pen and paper.  I was wondering if anyone could draw a philosophical, or metaphorical connection in the conversation between Toni Morrison and Dante.

A Trip to the Grocery Store

In 1859, The Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company, better known as A&P, was created. As we reach the time period in Jazz, the store had grown to be the largest grocery store/food retailer in the country. The store is now known as being “Walmart before Walmart.” Up until 1965, A&P was the largest retailer, period.

In the beginning of Jazz, an important theme to think about is the future. The city, along with the “citysky” show to be signs of growth and a better future for African Americans. In the  beginning, Page 7 to be exact, it was mentioned that a colored man was offered a job as a clerk at an A&P.

Just thought it was an interesting piece of history that Morrison chose to include in her work. Also, this was the first time I have heard of this store, and unfortunately I wont be able to shop at one, because as of 2015, all A&P stores closed, ending a 156 year retail business and tradition.

Rose’s Well

*Spoilers – Please do not read until you have completed the reading for 10/17*

Hello everyone!

I recently completed the reading for Monday, and I found myself noticing a lot of references to “churning” in Jazz.  From pages 98-102, we are given quite a bit of background information regarding Violet’s family.  Violet’s mother is called “Rose Dear”.  (I also think it is important to note that both of the women’s names are flowers).  The narrator explains how Violet refuses to turn into her mother: “Sitting in the thin sharp light of the drugstore playing with a long spoon in a tall glass made her think of another woman occupying herself at a table pretending to drink from a cup.  Her mother.  She didn’t want to be like that.  Oh never like that” (97).  Violet remembers men coming into the house and ransacking it for all it was worth (97).  I wonder if this was because Rose was not paying bills, or because she simply allowed these men to come in and take whatever they wanted.  Either way, Violet claims she will not turn into her mother.

Back to churning!  So, Rose’s mother drowns herself in a well (99).  That water took Rose’s life, “Violet never forgot Rose Dear–or the place she had thrown herself into–a place so narrow, so dark, it was pure, breathing relief to see her stretched in a wooden box “(101).  Violet is relieved to know her mother has passed, but staying in the place where she grew up is no longer an option.  We learn: “As Violet grew older, she could no longer stay where she was nor go away.  The well sucked her sleep, but the notion of leaving frightened her” (102).  At this point in her life, Violet is considering committing suicide the same way her mother had.  I think there is not only the churning of the well, but the churning of Rose and Violet’s blood.  Rose and Violet are both mentally unstable, they both react to unwanted situations in dangerous ways.  (Rose threw herself into a well, whereas Violet stabbed Dorcas’ dead body during her funeral).  I think the churn of their blood is important, and part of the reason Violet did not have children was to halt that churning.

Do any of you agree/disagree?  Are there any more instances of “churning” in our recent reading?



Looking forward/Looping back

Dr. Michael Oberg, Geneseo’s SUNY Distinguished Professor of History, now has a website up in support the forthcoming second edition of his textbook Native America: A History. The site is an amazing resource, and I encourage you to bookmark it and get familiar with it as part of your dedication to lifelong learning.

As I poked around on the site and continued to learn, I encountered David J. Silverman’s essay “Guns, empires and Indians.”

Continue reading “Looking forward/Looping back” – The Great Migration

Hi everyone!

I wanted to know more about the Great Migration, other than the fact that many African Americans moved up north.  I think this is a great article which includes why the Great Migration happened, how African Americans traveled, and what they did when they arrived in the north.  It also gives some cultural background of African Americans during this time period.

For those who migrated, there was a lot of competition for jobs and also for housing: “Some residential neighborhoods enacted covenants requiring white property owners to agree not to sell to blacks; these would remain legal until the Court struck them down in 1948.”

Continue reading “ – The Great Migration”

The Novel Embodiment of Jazz Music

For some reason I’m normally tempted to skip the foreword of novels. Perhaps I just want to get right into the story. Perhaps I think Roman numeral pages don’t really count. But I did read the one in Jazz and I’m glad I did because as I’ve been reading I’ve had Morrison’s introductory words in the back of my head, shaping how I read it. I don’t know everything about jazz music but Morrison explains how she’s used it in her novel. She says jazz music is primarily about “invention. Improvisation, originality, change,” and that “rather than be about those characteristic, the novel would seek to become them,” (xx). I made a blog post about Morrison’s use of structure in a Mercy, and her brilliant use of it in Jazz, though a somewhat different, is catching my attention yet again. She said herself in the foreword, “I had written novels in which structure was designed to enhance meaning; here the structure would equal meaning” (xix). So I knew even before starting the book that Morrison would be doing some cool jazz-like things with her structure, and I am not disappointed. Continue reading “The Novel Embodiment of Jazz Music”

To Thwart Close Reading

*As a disclaimer, this is not a fully analytical post. In a 400 level college class and the intelligent discourse that comes along with that, I wasn’t sure where to put these thoughts, so I decided to use the blog space, but perhaps even here isn’t the right place.*

When we were discussing the epigraph for Jazz, Dr. McCoy said that she believes the lines can’t be reconciled and that maybe as readers we need to think about beauty. That resonated with me, because as an English major obviously I love analyzing texts: their meanings, reader interpretations vs. authorial intentions, and literary elements. As an future teacher, I love helping others come to their own conclusions about texts as well.


I believe that often in college classes, students fall into two categories. Either they are so stressed by other classes that they skim through reading just trying to finish the assigned pages even if it means losing sleep, sanity, or both. The opposite of that is the students who become obsessed finding the underlying meaning of every sentence, word, and sound. And that’s not a bad thing- we have to go deeper into texts than we have ever attempted before because that’s why people take literature classes in college. I believe that there is a quality of beauty in literature that sometimes get ignored, or rather overlooked.

Continue reading “To Thwart Close Reading”