Animal attractions

Beating, biting and battering don’t typically go hand-in-hand with love and affection.   However, the central female love interests in William Attaway’s Blood on the Forge and Frank Norris’ McTeague are attracted by being physically overcome by their partners.  Despite striking differences in both personality and sexual experience, Big Mat’s lover Anna and McTeague’s wife Trina share an unusual desire to be dominated.  Anna hopes to move up from her peon life as a prostitute and find a big man to fulfill all her monetary desires.  However, she finds out that her wants come at a hefty cost.  Oppositely, asexual Trina does not know what she wants until she succumbs to the overpowering nature of McTeague, which eventually leads to her demise.

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On the Road

The road is its own unique space.  It is open to everyone.  Most importantly the road offers a break from reality.  It allows people from all over to leave their everyday lives in search of something different or something better.  Jack Kerouac’s characters in On the Road live their lives in constant forward motion.  In some ways, his tale subverts the naturalist theme of environmental determinism.  Big Slim Hazard turns his back on what life had planned for him by consciously deciding to be homeless.  Dean Moriarty has a rough childhood and succumbs to environmental determinism by following in his criminal father’s footsteps, but uses the road as an escape from this fate.  Sal Paradise has no determined destiny, and always returns to the road in search of something greater than what his everyday life offers.

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The greatest love of all

Love comes in all shapes and sizes.  It comes in all colors and all forms.  Sometimes it is innocent and fresh, but other times it is controversial and dangerous.  Sometimes love has no words – it is simply feelings, scents and tastes.  Janie from Their Eyes Were Watching God learned the hard way just what love is and is not. Some critics argue that the novel is a love story.  I do not disagree, but I believe that it is more a story of self-love and Janie’s journey to find inner happiness and how the men in her life challenged or encouraged her pursuit.

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The fight for power, pride and whiteness

They fought.  They fought for freedom of religion.  They fought for power.  They fought to become more integrated into White society.  But while fighting those who oppressed them, they also began to fight their fellow oppressed.  The antebellum era in which The Gangs of New York takes place was a violent, tumultuous period of time in which groups attempted to assert themselves through the illegal activities that made them infamous.  Irish immigrants departed their homeland hoping to leave the famine and religious persecution that plagued them in Ireland.  Unfortunately, they were not warmly embraced by Lady Liberty’s arms when they stepped off the ship.  Instead of being assimilated into a land of opportunity, they were sucked into the underbelly of American society.  They were instantly oppressed due to how they looked and the cultural differences that they brought with them.  Consequently came a criminalization associated with not only the area they lived in, but also the poverty that they had no real way of getting out of.  In turn, many immigrants became gangsters, trying to show their worth, trying to earn their way to “Whiteness.”

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Joaquin Murieta: Sinner or Saint

Joaquin Murieta was a man shrouded in myth, mystery and romanticism.  It’s impossible for readers to not become fully enveloped in his adventures of violence and revenge.  At times, the reader sympathizes with Joaquin as a victim of injustice and bigotry.  Other times, the reader is easily disgusted by the brutal, oft unwarranted violent acts of Joaquin and his comrades.  By some of these depictions, Joaquin becomes somewhat of a heroic character and martyr to his fellow Mexicans in California.  In the same token, he is also largely demonized by the Anglo-Americans of the area.  Any crime committed in the state is deemed to be the workings of “Joaquin” – no last name necessary, although Murieta was only one of many bandits named Joaquin during that period – regardless of how far away the incidents were from each other.  The story of Joaquin Murieta fits in perfectly to the changing times of California and the idea of Mexicans vs. Anglos.  Based off the early depiction John Rollin Ridge presents of Joaquin, it is easy to see why the bandito did many of the things he did, and at the same time, the story clearly shows how easily the Anglo-Americans could vilify such a character.  Ironically, the author of the story has a somewhat similar story of rising from injustice and seeking out his own form of vengeance.  Ridge/Yellow Bird’s life story makes him unable to be an unbiased storyteller.  His depiction of the racialization of certain ethnic groups speaks volumes about his own personal experiences and tells a sub-story in which Ridge uses certain characters to represent deeper issues.

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