Harriet The Spy: Mental Suvival

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In Harriet the Spy we are shown the life of a young newly bound sixth grader by the name of Harriet.  She is from a well off New York family, and is under the guidance and care of a Nanny named Ole Golly.  Harriet, however, is a spy.  Now one must not get confused, she is not a “spy” per se, in the vain of high octane action and suspenseful moments of life or death, no, instead Harriet is more of a snooper.
Under the influence of Ole Golly following her words of advice: “Ole Golly says there is as many ways to live as there are people on the earth and I shouldn’t go round with blinders but should see every way I can.  Then I’ll know what way I want to live and not just like my family” (pg. 32).  It is in a moment like this that we find what words really stick with Harriet from Golly.  To Harriet, she feels outside and alone from her actual parents, always hinting at the fact that it seems they never listen to her.  She confides most of her life into the care of Golly, which is something that is prevalent in manors that have a Nanny and hardly any parent-child interaction.  However, we see that Harriet kind of feels alone.  She seems to be wanting the attention from her parents as well as the attention from Golly, which we see has a wrench thrown in the gears with Mr. Waldenstein.
Harriet, seems to me to be oblivious to her own actions.  When she is on her route we get a window into the lives that she gazes at every afternoon.  During these scenes, Harriet writes in her notebook every detail going on in her mind about that subject.  However, we see her naivety come through.  When she is viewing Harrison Withers and his twenty six cats, Harriet is quick to judge Withers for only eating a quart of yogurt as food.  She explains: “There is also that yogurt.  Think of eating that all the time.  There is nothing like a good tomato sandwich now and then” (pg. 73).  In this exact quote we see the hypocritical statements of a naive and curious young girl.  She is criticizing Withers for eating just plain yogurt and nothing else, but also states that tomato sandwiches are great now and then, even though, we as the reader know that she gave the “one word” answer treatment to her mother and cook when discussing her tomato sandwiches from page 25 to 26.  It’s all she eats, and has eaten at school for five years.  So how are we to trust Harriet as a character if she is so naive to not even notice her hypocritical notions?
This naive notion is also shown during the criticism of the kids at school.  While Harriet is judging all of the children and stating how they have varying changes, most for the negative, or none at all, Pinky Whitehead, we begin to judge her.  She seems to have a grasp and attention to detail on her reality, but this shifts away from her own self.  Harriet is wise, but she is null, for she does not know what goes on inside her own self.  She cannot see the fact that she is a highly judgmental person; there may be nothing wrong with that when you have that characteristic in moderation, however, due to her youth, Harriet seems to be swimming in the ocean of endless judging.
What can be said about Harriet then?  We have a curious child who has the opportunity to administer her dreams in any way she can see fit in her reality.  But, we see how this can’t be for every child in the novel.  While we have characters like Janie and Harriet, and other school children who pull up in black limos (Beth Ellen), they are from well to do off backgrounds that allow for greater chances to experience things.  Then we are shown Sport.  Driven to the house duties of his home, due to a mother who left his drunk, writer father with all their money, Sport is left to do all the chores and take care of his father’s finances, or they don’t eat.  This is a dramatic juxtaposition in character.  When Harriet visits Sport on the way back from her route, we are shown the inner workings behind Sport.  Not only is he a driven child, but is also smart.  Something we don’t see when he interacts with Harriet outside of his house, for Harriet takes on that role.  But in Sport’s house, he is the intelligent one.  He knows how to make financial ledgers like a C.P.A; he knows how to clean every inch of his house; he knows how to cook, even though it is usually eggs, but nonetheless, Sport is very much independent and very intelligent for that.  When we compare that to Harriet, whom has a nanny to care for her, a cook to make her food, and I’m assuming people who clean and maintain the house (maids and what not), we see that in Harriet’s house she is merely the child.  In Sport’s house, he is the adult, and his father is the child.  This also shows us what brings up children the way they are.  Harriet is a curious child who loves to dream and know everything about everyone and the outside world.  Sport, however, is more akin to financial dreams and making it by, a more chilling reality, but regardless a reality among children.
Overall, throughout book one of Harriet the Spy we have seen many instances of thematic elements, character development, and also a greater sense of the overall message of the book.  By us seeing that Harriet is very judgmental to others and naive to her own workings, we can only foreshadow a downfall.  Something will happen to her that will damage her outlook on the world and it will be cast under, begging her to desperately find a new way out of that situation.  Yet another children’s novel latent with adult material that can be heavily interpreted, or stand alone as just a story, we must marvel at the brilliance of how our realities and lives are somehow connected through childhood and how those years seem to be the ones we long to live through again.  It is a great novel for many young children, but also for any self reflecting adult who may feel that they are alone in the world, or may not have a good grasp on their own identity.  Harriet the Spy is a novel that can transcend the boundaries of social progression and change, and forever will be a written work of classic intent.

Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry: Interconnecting Pasts

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Taylor presents Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, a gripping children’s novel that exposes the harsh realities of a racist stricken society amidst the Great Depression.  Taylor utilizes events of her own family in the backdrop of a fictionalized account of similar racist actions during this time.  By connecting all three eras of oppression to the black community, it is hard to believe that this would account as a children’s novel.  Nevertheless, we, as subjective observers, are forced to accept that it is a children’s novel meant to implant the tiny seed that may grow in the young minds and flourish to a generation without oppressive behaviors.

The children in the story are exposed to stories of how Mr. Mildred’s family is considered “breed stock.”  “Breed stock” was the term used to describe slaves who were used to breed physically strong children to produce better output on plantations.  In his elaboration, the children are thus exposed to how their ancestors were treated and forced to live.  Papa does not hinder Mildred’s parable, for he knows that it has importance in developing his children’s own identity.  Taylor is connecting the events of the Depression era racist state, by chaining it to the root (by exposing the Logan children to this, they are now able to conclude that the racism that they experience is far less than what it used to be; adversely, the racism they experience is in direct fall out of the end of slavery).  With burnings and lynchings, Machiavellian attempts to have land taken, being forced to shop at only one shop, owned by people who are responsible for burnings and lynchings of your own people, all of these beg the question: is it just as bad now as it was during slavery?  If people are not safe because of the color of their skin, i. e., they are in danger of being killed for merely walking down the street, then do we have a system that is less atrocious? Are these fewer atrocities more detrimental in comparison to the time of Slavery?  These are all questions that are being begged of the reader.  That is the point Taylor is trying to achieve with the novel as a whole.  The point is to begin this series of questioning all the things you are exposed to, until you get clear answers.  The connection is further presented when we are exposed to the background of Taylor, in such, that she was writing this novel during the height of the Civil Rights and Black Power movements of the 60’s and 70’s

Merely thirty to forty years from the setting of the Logan children, we are exposed to the Civil Rights movement.  With the same racist and oppressive actions being enacted in the South (and some North), many in the black community began to voice their retort to the maddening system that was in place.  For them, enough was enough.  Taylor, being a part of this movement, has thus given us a novel which shows the simple fact: Racism and slave like tendencies have been prevalent well after the Civil War and it continues even to this day, as I, The Wolf, write this to you.

Overall, Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, is one of the few children’s novels I can actually say I was utterly intrigued by.  The depth at which you can interpret every character is great and the events that culminate most of the spice to the story of the characters  offer a frighteningly stiff reality check.  Racist and oppressive behavior is still as prevalent today, just as it was during Taylor’s period of writing this book, the era of the Logan Children, and Mildred’s ancestors…it is because of books like these, however, that we can look forward towards a future where we, humans, can no longer tolerate such behavior to any human of any race, class, or orientation.  It is because of books like these that we are gripped into the depths of our soul, where we imagine, perfectly, every bit of detail on the burned Berry men, or we are embraced by the anger and defeat when Cassie is forced to apologize for being pushed.  It is because we can successfully (about 98% max) put ourselves into these characters’ minds, that we can successfully determine the powerful impact a novel, such as this, may have on younger generations.  I only hope that it can be a step in the right direction, to break this perpetual chain of interconnected pasts,instead of the ever looming purgatory our society so seems to crave.

The Birchbark House: Teaching Spiritual Connectivity

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The Birchbark House is an incredible children’s novel that culminates many aspects about Native American culture.  Engulfed in the life of Omakayas (Little Frog), the reader is enraptured by the connections between humans and nature. The parallels between humans who live with nature (Native Americans) and the humans who wish to consume or defeat nature (White Man), are strikingly accurate, paving way to a new conceptual pattern of thinking about one’s history.  As well, we also see the aspects of spiritual connections with animals.  Overall, The Birchbark House is an essential read for anyone in order to grasp a further understanding of the connection one may have with their own spirit or the spirit of nature.

Omakayas is first found amongst the shores of Spirit Island, the only remaining survivor of a Smallpox outbreak that wipes her family out.  Thus being adopted into her new family (The Anishinabe), we see Omakayas life begin to grow.  At once we, as the reader, are alluded towards the fact that Omakayas is somewhat special already.  Something in her made it possible for her to survive the Smallpox disease at infancy.  This seems to be a parable explaining how one should be thankful for one’s existence in this world.  By juxtaposing the fact that her entire family is killed by this “White Man’s” disease, with her survival, we are forced to interpret this as being thankful for existing in the present moment.

The Anishinabe are a tribe that demands heavy responsibility at a young age.  However, this is dire due to the circumstances that they are hunters and gatherers.  Everyday there has to be work done in order for the community to be stable and thrive.  In order for them to get food and water during all four seasons, there has to be a certain degree of discipline amongst every member of that community.  Although most people in today’s modern societal structure would be quick to question if this was acceptable or not, it is still a common practice to place chores on your children or for teenagers to go and get a job early on.  Overall, the Anishinabe understand that this diligent responsibility was to honor the Earth and nature for making them a part of it and giving them plenty of resources to survive.

This leads to the parallels between the Native Americans and the White Man.  Discussions amongst some of the tribe members introduces us to the problems existing between both cultures.  The Anishinabe are afraid the White Men are attempting to make them move again, and they are growing tired of that forceful act.  As well, they are upset at the fact that Smallpox keeps attacking their tribes.  They never knew the disease until White Settlers came to the land, and this adds to their frustration with the White Men, especially when they try to forcibly relocate them.  During Deydey and the other tribesman’s discussion, they describe the White Man as “endlessly greedy for land” and “infinitely hungry.”  This alludes to the spiritual differences between the two cultures.  We see the Native Americans who are heavily spiritual and nature loving, and we see the forceful hunger of the White Man causing a disconnect in communication.  When the Native Americans discuss land, it is as if it is apart of them, when the White Man discusses land it is condemned as his “property.”

The Birchbark House continues the branching out of spirituality by showing Omakayas’ connection with animals.  During the bear incident, she finds herself able to communicate with the mother bear when she pins her down.  Next she ends up with a pet crow, which conveniently causes a rift between Omakayas and her brother Pinch.  Amongst the settling of the dispute, Omakayas and her mother go to search for the crow that was shooed away under false pretenses.  During this search, they come across the same mother bear and cubs that Omakayas first saw when she realized her gift.  She begins to talk to the mother bear and Omakayas’ mother tells Nokomi about it.  During the months before winter, Nokomi tells Omakayas that she must listen to the whispers of the bears.  This brings us to the conceptual realization of the connectivity the tribes had with nature.  This was a matter that was taken seriously instead of bewilderment.

Although a fictional situation, it stands as a metaphorical interpretation of one’s own self.  The communication with the animals and the connection Omakayas feels with them is merely a symbol for her growing connection with nature.  This is the thematic element the book is trying to achieve.  It is trying to teach this spiritual connectivity with nature.  It is trying to introduce this concept of ancient wisdom to the mass audiences of those who choose to be ignorant of the very nature they are born of.

When the Anishinabe people are struck with Smallpox from “the ill-man,” Omakayas is distraught at the loss of Newoo and Ten Snows where we see Death becoming a new member of the tribe.  These events, however, lead Omakayas to understand her spirit animal, and understand more about herself as a person as we have been seeing throughout the novel.  The circular patterns that lead us into the inside of Omakayas is another symbol for how one achieves their connection with their own spirit.  The disease that strikes her family is like the struggle one must endure.  It is the confusion, the anger, the frustration at not knowing your purpose in this large map of natural placement.  But it shows us how these elements are necessary in order to reach that answer.  Ultimately, Omakayas finds out from Old Tallow that she was a survivor of the disease at a young age, and thus she now understands her purpose is to care for the sick and stop the disease from decimating anymore of her people.

Overall, this was a fantastic book with overarching elements of spiritual connectivity, the problems between varying cultures, and the immense depth of how one’s culture can be.  This might be an essential read for any young child as it could be taught with the same passion the tribes used to have for nature.  If that message was explicitly drilled into the thought process of someone young, maybe the future of our very existence may have a new way of thriving on.  If we live in a time of ignorance and highly denied spiritual connection, then we see the problems with our own planet (climate change, global warming, mass extinctions of species, human destitution, warfare, greed, hunger); maybe it’s time we try to see how our existence could be if we all respected nature as well as Omakayas did.

“Oh, Mama bear, Mama bear

Please don’t mind me.

I’m just marveling at

The wonder of your Babies.

I feel how warm you are,

deep in your thoughts

I’m sorry I tried to,

Pet their paws.

If you can understand,

Then we must be

Connected,

You and Me…

Like the Lone Wolf, who howls

Deep at night,

I’ll take on my role

As the bear

Without fright.”

-AM

Little House on the Prairie and the Loss of the American Dream

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Laura Ingalls-Wilder paints a luscious American landscape behind a portrait of a pioneer family, whom leave Wisconsin for the newly acquired Kansas in the American expansion of the west.  In Little House on the Prairie, Wilder takes us on a journey similar to that of the Oregon Trail game we used to play in elementary school.  Derived from personal accounts, most of the details given to the landscapes are beyond breathtaking.  Although Wilder pays great attention to detail with the surroundings the characters inhabit, there is much to be discussed with the overall theme of the book: the American Dream.

Before we dwell further into this theme, we must attempt to define the “American Dream.”  In a definitive sense it is the drive that all citizens of the U.S. should have an equal opportunity to achieve success through a mixture of determination, initiative, and hard work.  In the philosophical sense, the “American Dream” can be debated as to a meaning.  For most it means striving to achieve your dreams.  Striving to reach for the greatest possibilities.  For me it appears to be striving for your dreams whilst deriving a slave mentality to achieve these often high and unachievable fantasies.  For most, it simply means achieving happiness or a peaceful state of existence.  In Wilder’s book, we see when the “American Dream” is in its true definitive sense.  We see this through the work of Pa and Ma when they travel with the girls through a dangerously thin, icy Mississippi River.  We see this when Pa develops the initiative and determination to build a house from the ground up, not simply because he was trying to achieve a sense of independence, but because without such a determination, there would be no shelter for his family; it is all about survival.

Wilder, I believe, is trying to exploit how the American Dream may be a seldom achievement.  Although we are often painted these happy instances juxtaposed with some shaky situations (ex: Ma’s ankle getting sprained by a rolling log during construction of the house), the deeper reading consists of seeing how all of this hard work that Pa and his family are putting in to this dream of a new life, ultimately, through a series of circumstances, he cannot achieve this dream for his family.

Wilder foreshadows the downfall of the American Dream through Pa and his experiences with the ever changing situations of the new America at this time.  By showing us certain instances of Native American interactions (Pa and some of the girls explore and abandoned Indian site and collect beads; or when some come and order Ma to make them cornbread) we are forced to believe that they stand as a symbol of how this American Dream cannot be acquired.  The Native Americans are standing as a living homage to the very thing that prohibits Pa from achieving his dream in the end of the book.  Through the desecration and interactions of this time between the Native Americans and the Federal Government, it is safe to theorize that this story has purely karmic elements interwoven into it.  For example, when Pa is on a hunt and two Native Americans come and order Ma to make them cornbread, Laura contemplates releasing Jack on the men, however she remembers how her Pa forbade her from letting the dog go under any circumstances.  When he tells her she should always obey, after he returns, he warns her of how bad the situation could have turned.  Because of this a karmic effect takes place when the family comes down with Malaria.  When this happens, Jack somehow drags a doctor called “Mr. Tan” to the house (he works with the Indians in the territory) where he helps the family recover from the sickness.

This karmic effect further transgresses into the downfall of the pioneering family.  Pa begins to develop a quick hubris towards the possibility of claiming even newer land; fresh land that has recently been slated of any Indian presence (or so they are told).  Aside from the many wolves in the territory on top of this, the family soon is left to find that they must leave their newer house due to the animosity between the Government and the Native American inhabitants.  Through Pa’s greedy attempts at achieving newer fresh land that is more wild than where they have settled in Kansas, the karma kicks in from the Native Americans again.  By pressing further through the ignorance that the Indians were being forced out of the very land Pa wished to occupy, he was ultimately forced to abandon that prospect.

The American Dream is ill-achieved in Little House on the Prairie, and although we are shown instances and moments when that dream seems to be a reality, we are soon thrust on our heads to see that it was not necessarily true at all.  Although there was all this work and determination from this pioneer family to make this dream work, in the end, nature and the twisted sociopolitical manifestations of man and their effects caused this family’s dream to be shattered.

“So we trudged across the thin veiled ice,

On our way to the place of our new device;

And Pa, who would work with his hands

So Bare,

Never knew, what would come

From the dreams that crawled

Up from his hair.

The sickness came, as well as

With the Red-man’s claims

To wanting slices of corn bread,

We gathered beads,

And got to see,

The Indian’s moccasin treads.

And with the beat and howl

Of the wolf’s scowl,

I saw my Pa’s dream die.

Like the moon when it was full one night

In the stillness of the prairie life…”

-AM