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.
Life is perhaps one big search to discover who we truly are. As we grow older, we also change. As we move from place to place and from group to group, people see us in different lights, and we are indeed impacted. As all of these transformations affect who we are, our perception of ourselves often times begins to blur. As if we are a Monet painting, from far away we appear as a complete, oft beautiful product, but with a closer, more examining look, we are made of thick lines and messy colors. We are more than the reflection in the mirror, more than the face in pictures, more than the image in others’ minds. Virginia Woolf thoroughly explores these issues by making readers question how perception is different from reality. By using defamiliarization, presenting the everyday in a strange way, Woolf juxtaposes our understanding of who we are and how those around us influence how we see ourselves. When we strip away everything people perceive and the material things, then we can truly begin to examine ourselves for who we really are, regardless of whether or not we like what we see.
The power of language helps take readers to a place they could only imagine in their wildest dreams. It allows them to envision grand earthquakes and utopias. It lets them see the world on a deeper level than just the sometimes uniform world around them. Language lets writers tell a story, regardless of how farfetched or enchanted it might be if it were actually true. It helps them to convey certain messages through symbols and analogies. It encourages them to point out the fallacies and contradictions in common belief. Most of all, it brings together the two groups to create an interesting, unusual interaction. Without language, the world would truly be in the dark. Without this communication, people would have no way to dissent, no way to have their opinion known, no way to tell stories. With language, people have power. But what is this power if there is no style along with it? Anyone can throw words together to make a sentence, to let their voice be heard. But without some sense of a particular peculiarity and character, this diction will never be more than just words. To truly make a point clear, a writer must develop his story by challenging the reader with language and ideas that sometimes contradict each other but work in a way that they serve a deeper purpose. Voltaire thoroughly wields this power in Candide by using literary devices and stylized language to clearly demonstrate his critiques on optimism, war, and blissful ignorance.
Earnest J. Gaines tackles the idea of what it means to be human in his book, A Lesson Before Dying. He shows the transformation of a man who was wrongfully sentenced to death. This man, Jefferson, describes himself through much of the novel as a hog. However, it is with the support of his family, especially is godmother Miss Emma, and his community, in particular, the school teacher Grant, that he discovers what it means to be human. Gaines shows us that it takes the encouragement of others and the will power of ourselves to fully realize our existence. In this, we assert this existence in a number of ways. Jefferson did so by “walking” to his death. Becoming human is a unique process. People, unlike animals, unlike hogs, have to ability to reason. This goes beyond the simple, rational facets such as thinking and comprehending ideas. In the beginning, Jefferson might have had these parts of reasoning, but it wasn’t until he discovered his true humanity that he found the other, deeper parts. He learned to show the ones who loved him that he loved them in return. He showed appreciation. He showed pride. He showed his feelings. And with that, he showed he would die as a human being.