A Child’s Foe, Favoritism

I’m convinced. Well, I’ve always known. Now I’m just consciously recognizing its pernicious existence: favoritism. But not your ordinary last-kid-picked-kickball sorta favoritism. Nope. Its the bred that rotted my teeth because I slid under my bed and chewed gum and ate candy in resentment. It’s the my-one-child-outta-five-is-my-ultimate-favorite sorta favoritism that drives middle children, like myself, askew. Because 9.95 times / 10 times, we aren’t the recipients. Inversely, our pampered siblings live an unimaginable lifestyle; a utopia of sorts.

Kehinde embraced the exclusivity that riding with his father (Kewku) implied. They were alone and Kweku was kind. Kweku, the dying, dead, dissolving father in Taiye Selasi’s Ghana Must Go (2014) resembles everything adjacent to kind. Passionate. Loving. Providing. Intelligent.

Hard-working. Etc. Never as gentle, nurturing, or vulnerable. Never kind. Until Kweku finds himself “shoved…to the sidewalk outside” of his former hospital of employment (79). There, physically tossed out, slightly embarrassed, Kweku finds Kehinde frazzled right beside him. Kehinde was “surprised to find the world…revolving” too (79). This moment, which Kehinde was partially privy to, altered the dynamics of the Sai family, and Kehinde was aware of these universal shifts.

Child Favoritism

After confronting his former employer, being thrown to the curb, and watching chaos spill into the ER, Kweku gathered his son and they headed for the car. While en route, Kweku “was burning with the desire to say something brilliant, something wise and overriding” (80). Finding nothing brilliant to say, Kweku settles with “I’m sorry you saw that,” in which Kehinde clarifies “[s]ight is subjective” (80). Finally heading home, Kweku “drove without looking, without needing to, from memory. Seeing instead of looking. He drove home by heart (my emphasis added, 81). A colloquial statement, “he drove home by heart” means Kweku navigated home by his-way-of-knowing. However, in this logic heart is anthropomorphized: it borrows the human quality of memory. No only can Kweku remember the way home, but his heart (a bodily extension) too recalls. If Kweku’s heart has memory, or the ability to remember, then must it have other human qualities? Next, Kehinde’s decree that “[s]ight is subjective,” succeeded by phrases complicating what it means to see, points to the heart as a vessel of sight: something to see through. The preceding line of my emphasized quote—“Seeing instead of looking”—privileges seeing over looking. Implying that seeing is more intimate than looking. Seeing is linked more with home; it’s deeper inside. What’s deep inside and associated with home? The HEART! Hence, Kweku’s heart is humanized more with the addition of sight. It can recall, therefore think, and now see. Kweku’s heart appears to be a metonym, not for himself but his son—Kehinde. Kehinde is Kweku’s heart.

The heart is an extension of Kweku. It symbolizes the whole of him. Likewise, Kehinde is an extension of Kweku, a biological one. A child carries the same biological make-up as their parents—gaining equal parts from each parent—making them annexes. Socio-culturally, a son is thought to model after his father: be like him in manner. Thus making him a replica. The biological meshed with the socio-cultural insists that a son is a literal extension of his father. Augmenting this point, by –linking home and heart—has a dual meaning. As a preposition, a way of knowing; an adverb, proximity to an object. Thus, Kweku could either be driving by knowledge of the way home, or he could be driving by (with/next to) his heart, Kehinde. Therefore, the conflation of both by and heart and their double meanings into this colloquial phrase, symbolizing familiarity and comfort, marks Kehinde as the favorite of Kweku. He is with him at his smallest and raises him up. Kehinde pumps life back into his doppelganger. Arriving home, Kehinde displays his “genius” painting to his father, and awards Kwefu by choosing him over Fola (82). The once downtrodden Kweku, out on the curb, now “laughed” and “giggled.” Kweku’s life been restored, by Kehinde, his heart.

Without Kehinde, Kweku would surely die. By virtue of the everyday-phrase, the father-son relationship is implied to hold great import. Kehinde becomes an appendix to Kweku; not only his son; maybe even him reincarnated, the vessel through which a piece of him took a liking to. Kehinde is Kweku’s favorite.

Selasie, Taiye. Ghana Must Go, New York: Penguin, 2014, 1-160.

Slave Narrative: Reading List (Quadrese’)

Key Terms: Story-telling, family memoirs, narratives, autobiographical memory, slave narratives, freedom narratives

Secondary Works/ Theoretical Works :

Critical Race Theory

  • Critical Race Theory: A Introduction (Delgado)

Davis, Rocio G. Relative Histories: Mediating History in Asian American Family Memoirs, U of Hawai’i, 2011.

The Art of Slave Narratives: Original Essays in Criticism and Theory, edited by John Sekora and Darwin T. Turner, 1983.

Lovejoy, Paul E. “‘Freedom Narratives’ of Transatlantic Slavery.” Slavery & Abolition, vol 32, 2011. https://doi.org/10.1080/0144039X.2011.538200

Rienhart, Nicholas T.‘“I Talk More of The French”Creole Folklore and the Federal Writers’ Project.” Callaloo, 39, 2, 2016: https://muse.jhu.edu/article/622580.

Spillers, Hortense. “Momma’s Baby, Poppa’s Maybe: An American Grammar Book.”

Zafar, Rafia. We Wear the Mask: African Americans Write Americans Literature, 1760- 1870, New York: U of Columbia, 1991.

Nayar, Sheila J. “The Enslaved Narrative:White Overseers and the Ambiguity of the Story-Told Self in Early African-American Autobiography.” Biography, 39, 2, 2016.

. Edited by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and Charles T. Davis, Oxford: 1990.

PaulGilroy: The Black Atlantic

Journals:

Callaloo    |  Biography|  Slavery & Abolition: A Journal of Slave and Post-Slave Studies

Summary:

I knew I was interested in stories and storytelling, specifically how Black people told stories. And this summer I read a work by Zora Neal Hurston and it resonated with me. So I gathered that texts on my list would examine storytelling and slave narratives. Furthermore, my list is comprised of authors, articles, or themes that helps interrogate Black life. Since the basis of the recounted stories were personal stories, I am Callolinterested in the language used to describe the quotidian and that relationship to the narrative structure as a whole. My list  will also, primarily have Black writers and thinkers. Because marginalized communities’ stories have similarities, consideration will be given to non-Black writers of color. Zora Neale Hurston is the only “author” of interest right now; however, I am also interested in the accounts of the  formerly enslaved as dictated to the Worker’s Progress Administration (WPA).

Questions:

Might the narrative structure of formerly enslaved people’s stories, suggest an appropriate dictation methodology for scribing Black people’s histories?

What are Black stories?

How are Black stories told?

Who has the authority over the narrative(s)?

Does racial/ethnic background inform approaches to dictating?

B3

Social Influence of Stories

Solomon O. Iyasere reveals Okonkwo’s “obsession with proving and preserving his manliness” as “dominat[ing] [his] entire life, both public and private” (377). Informal interactions, like story-time, Okonkwo even monitored closely. Iyasere says: “[R]elaxed story-telling sessions, Okonkwo sees [as] a threat to himself and his ‘dynasty’” (377). Iyasere links the act of story-telling with Okonkwo’s display and management of masculinity. Okonkwo’s defining and defending of manliness represents dependent variables, according to Iyasere; story-telling, the act of relaying a story, stands as the independent variable Okonkwo attempts control. Whereas I agree with Iysasere’s observation of the relationship between story-telling and masculinity, I believe story-telling’s social influence needs greater consideration.

Story-telling (the act) alone didn’t challenge Okonkwo’s sense of manhood; stories that could “make women of his sons, make them like their grandfather rather than like their father,” equally threatened Okonkwo (377).

Oknonkwo has always been hell-bent on stories. Always remarking on the difference between a masculine and feminine story; always remarking on the impotence imposed on his sons by virtue of their mothers’ stories. So he “‘encourage[s] the boys to sit with him in his obi, and he told them stories of the land—masculine stories of violence and bloodshed’” (377).

Okonkwo’s anxieties around story-telling implies its social power. A power that masks itself in “relaxed” settings and mingles with men and women. A power that is easily conferred to children. Story-telling’s oscillation, between the masculine and feminine, and its ability to bend will because of its banal mask, proves it to be one of Oknonkwo’s ultimate challenges. A challenge some may argue Oknonkwo lost.

Among the sons invited, or required, to sit with Okonkwo in his obi for story-time was Nwoye. A boy who has been described as resembling his grandfather, Unoka, in manner and appetite; a boy described as “degenerate and effeminate” (Achebe 88). These sessions sought to instill valor into the heart of Nwoye, thought to lack it by virtue.

In Part II readers begin to see colonization unfold. We see entire communities succumb to its flowery doctrine and pale demagogues. One of those new converts being Nwoye. A boy never earning his father’s favor; a boy who loves music and stories, he adopted an alien religion: “It was not the mad logic of the Trinity that captivated him. He did not understand it. It was the poetry of the new religion, something felt in the marrow…He felt a relief within as the hymn poured into his parched soul” (Achebe 85). Poetry is a form ofMaya Angelou quote storytelling. It contains a similar structure to a traditional story; however, poetry has traditionally been more flowery than a standard story. Poetry is like a song. Both poems and songs are mediums of stories. Similar to Unoka, who had a love for music and stories, Nwoye shared in such delights. Ultimately, it was those delights that encouraged Nwoye’s joining the missionaries. For it was the poetics of the religion—the metaphors, similes, hyperbole, etc—that engrossed Nwoye. It spoke his language. Christians, first named on page 87, practiced a religion that was poetic in nature. Such force, the speaker reveals, was perceptible in one’s “marrow” or bones. Not only was the religion poetic, but its use of poetics registered in the physical bodies of listeners; it meted well with those who had a natural attraction to song and stories. Nwoye’s intrinsic seduction by these two elements, marked Christianity as a natural point of situating. They are influential in Nwoye’s conversion to the religion.

However, it wasn’t until Oknonkwo relentlessly beats Nwoye concerning his affiliation with the missionaries that Nwoye fully submerges into the religious enclave (88). Whereas the new religion offered Nwoye a “relief” to his “parched soul,” Oknonkwo offered nothing but strife, and it was his behavior which, finally, ushered Nwoye into the arms of the missionaries. For “Nwoye did not fully understand. But he was happy to leave his father” (88).

It was the poetic stories that attracted Nwoye to Christianity; they meted well with his “callow mind” (85). But these stories were reinforced by the vile mannerisms of Oknonkwo, which ultimately drove Nwoye away. While Oknonkwo fixates on controlling his manliness, and by extension his sons’, domination over stories and their content is required.

There is power in story-telling, Achebe indirectly teaches. Not only does the story-teller hold power but the stories in general carry great social merit. Readers learn the value of telling stories, and the consequences of trying to control another’s.

 

B2

Works Cited:

Achebe,Chinua. “Things Fall Apart.” Things Fall Apart: A Norton Critical Edition, edited by Francis Abiole Irele, W.W. Norton & Co., 2009. pg 3-117.

Iyasere, Solomon O. “Narrative Techniques in Things Fall Apart.” Things Fall Apart: A Norton Critical Edition, edited by Francis Abiole Irele, W.W. Norton & Co., 2009. pg 370-385

Common Spirits

Meditation ideology is sweeping the nation! Everyone, everywhere sings the praises of routine meditation: “When I meditate, I see the world differently” and “When I meditate, nothing beyond myself exists.” Meditation is thought to align the multiple dimensions in our universe; synchronizing the physical with the spiritual. Meditation ushers the spiritual into the everyday.

But us new-age-hippies weren’t the first receipts of daily otherworldly interactions. They mingled with our ancestors. Maybe even foretold our birth. Maybe tried preventing our birth. Either way they’ve been here. Chinua Achebe in Things Fall Apart (1958), illuminates the intimate relationship between the physical and the spiritual. In Things Fall Apart, Achebe’s coupling of the two, in a non-intrusive manner, normalizes the presence of the spiritual element; readers are forced to take this “uncommon” literally element as everyday.

In Chapter Five, Ekwefi (Okonkwo’s second wife) is prepping a meal for dinner. As innocuous as this may seem, the encroaching wrestling match acts as the backdrop. It’s what town-folk was anticipating:

Ekwefi and her daughter Ezinma are cooking. Simultaneously, Ezinma curiously pesters Ekwefi with trivial concerns and bodily twitches. Ekwefi, too preoccupied to fully entertain or argue with Ezinma, appears mentally removed from the scene. The narrator later describes Ekwefi’s mannerisms as “listless” (49). After offering Ezinma deeper insight into her twitching eye, and having finished plucking the hen, Ekwefi is called from outside. “‘Ekwefi!’ a voice called from one of the other huts” (26). The caller is identified, to us! For Ekwefi, it’s still a stranger. She responds: “Is that me?”. A rhetorical question? Not a response? The narrator explains: “That was the way people answered calls from outside. They never answered yes for fear it might be an evil spirit calling.” Phrases like the way implies normalcy. It suggests a customary routine of operation; something people always did. Ekwefi was not alone in her use of rhetorical questioning; it was a widespread phenomenon. The inclusion of context for Ekwefi’s response illustrates how custom such phrase was, but too how ordinary spirits are. The narrator admits, “[t]hat was the way people answered calls from outside.”

Three Mystical Figures

Outside is not defined here, but how often have you been called from outside the room you were in? Happens pretty frequently. I could imagine that for Ekwefi, and others, it’s regular as well. The narrator also described the spirits’ presence with familiarity. These beings were not alien; they shared homes with human beings. Such sentiment further establishes the intimate relationship between the physical and the spiritual.The regularity with which rhetorical questioning is used, spirits are present, and one may be summoned from outside of their room, implies that spirits are ever-present. They are an authentic aspect of society that can not be ignored; even the bad ones.

Ekwefi’s scene marks reader’s first encountering the mingling of the physical with the spiritual. But it too foreshadows later events that embody a similar spirit.

Achebe’s text suggests the spiritual element is omnipresent. Just as we roam this planet, mystical beings accompany us always missioned with a purpose. We must not journey through life ignoring their company. Instead, we must embrace them on all fronts. For they have a great deal to teach us. They have a deal to show us.

Achebe, Chinua. “The Text Things Fall Apart.” Things Fall Apart, edited by Francis Abiola Irele, W.W Norton, 2009, 3-74.

B#1