By Deirdre Lynch, Sara Weber, and Jaden Forteau



Class is a word that has been given many different definitions over time and has multiple connotations attached to it. In the Oxford English Dictionary, the definition for class was originally defined as, “An inclusive or general taxonomic category into which species of living organism are grouped” (OED). This definition goes along with the idea of categorizing or identifying an item such as a plant or an animal based on similar characteristics. This definition is commonly used in biology. Another definition for class is, “To place in a class; to assign or regard as belonging to a particular category” (OED). Nowadays when people think of the word “class,” it is typically associated with an individual’s social or economic status. A more commonly used definition is A system of ordering society whereby people are divided into strata of this type; the pattern of social division created by such a system; a person’s position in society as defined by this(OED). 


  According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word class comes from multiple origins but the main origin was from France. In French, it is pronounced classe. The OED states that class in France is the “division of the Roman people on the basis of property” (OED).                                                   

Literary Importance: 

The term “class”  helps readers understand literary texts in a more complex way.  Knowing what class structure is, can help a reader better categorize characters within a book. Authors demonstrate class structure by showing the contrast between social and economic statuses. A thorough understanding of class structure at the time that the book takes place, can give the reader a better insight into the characters’ lives by showing how their status affects their daily routine. By evaluating class structure, readers may also be able to understand why a character is treated the way they are, and why they treat other character’s the way they do.  Knowing the meaning of class will help readers better interpret interactions between characters when deciphering conversations. In most cases, wealth is equivalent to power, therefore class can further explain why a character has a certain amount of authority and control. Understanding the definition of class can also help readers recognize certain tensions between one or multiple races within a book. Having an understanding of the term class helps readers better distinguish inequality between characters. Opportunities and rewards of a person are greatly affected by their class position. Therefore, class helps us notice the difference in education, opportunities, power, and even health. The characters in A Raisin in the Sun live in a cramped house in the south side of Chicago. Their position in society affects each character’s life in a different way.  Beneatha was a more progressive thinker than the average minority woman in the 1950’s. She studied in hopes of becoming a doctor, but it was difficult due to her family’s lack of finances. Her brother Walter dreamed of opening a liquor store, but because of his family’s low income, he was stuck working as a chauffeur to a rich- white man. He often takes his frustrations about life out on his wife. Walter’s wife, Ruth is also affected by their family’s poor financial situation. She struggles to obtain any time for herself being a mother, a housewife and cleaning other family’s houses. Ruth even had to consider aborting her unborn baby because she was aware that her family could not financially afford it.

Keyword in Action:

Throughout the story A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry, the idea of class is displayed in many interesting ways. Since the Younger family is African American, their class status is heavily defined by this trait. Unfortunately, due to the long-standing racial stereotypes that have been implemented in America, African Americans have been known to be the inferior race. While all of the data to confirm these statements have been proven false, these ideas are still held by some. The idea of race relates heavily to this story since the life of the Younger family is impacted by their low-class status.

One aspect of life that is affected by the class of the Younger family is their jobs and career goals. One example of this is when Beneatha strives to become a doctor, and people underestimate her because of her low status. Beneatha works hard to earn her status as a smart, capable girl, and her progress is inhibited by people who don’t believe in her. Her own brother has trouble believing that she can be an effective doctor and encourages her to be a nurse. He says, “[w]ho the hell told you you had to be a doctor? If you so crazy ’bout messing ’round with sick people- then go be a nurse like other women- or just get married and be quiet” (38). This argument likely would not have come about if their class status was higher. If the Younger family was rich, Beneatha would be able to choose whatever career she wanted and receive no backlash for it. Since the family is lower class, though, it is expected that she sticks to the status quo.

Another way in which class is relevant to the story A Raisin in the Sun is that higher class people try to distance themselves from people of color. Since the Youngers are crammed into a small household, they dream of living in a more spacious home. They end up with the financial means to move, and Mama puts a down payment on a house in a white neighborhood. Mr. Lindner, a member of the welcoming committee tries to encourage the Youngers not to move into his community. Lindner does not say this explicitly, however, it is clear that he does not want them in his community because he believes that their presence will damage his communities’ image. This is evident when he says “…the overwhelming majority of our people out there feel that people get along better, take more of a common interest in the life of the community when they share a common background” (118). He tried to make them believe that his comment was not derogatory, however, it is clear that this is not the case. It is clear that their ‘unshared background’ is their race. This discrimination obviously isn’t fair but is ever so present in the lives of the Younger family in A Raisin in the Sun. The general assumption that the Younger family and African American families alike are somehow inferior to white families is damaging and false. The upper-class citizens, in turn, discriminate against lower-class citizens, who happen to be African American. The Younger family and all other African American families, therefore, face constant discrimination and have to deal with being constantly looked down upon and underestimated. The effects of discrimination are far-ranging, and the idea of class proves this. Certain class distinctions make it extremely clear that white people (typically upper class) have the upper hand over African Americans (typically lower class). 

The meaning of the word ‘class’ is different for each person and society. For this reason, analyzing class will be different depending on the culture that defines it, but it is important to read texts with this concept in mind. Hansberry points out class disparity through her characters, specifically Lindner, who contrasts greatly from the Younger family. She seeks to bring awareness to class differences and show how struggles related to class are damaging.

Works Cited

Image derived from Pixabay, by Andrey_Popov 

Hansberry, Lorraine. A Raisin in the Sun. Robert Nemiroff, 1994.

The Oxford English Dictionary. Oxford University Press, 2004.


Marissa Dauber, Jill Venditti, Kate Kamler, and Taylor Fancher 

ENG 252


Photo by Lindsey LaMont on Unsplash


The Oxford English Dictionary defines feminism as “Advocacy of equality of the sexes and the establishment of the political, social, and economic rights of the female sex; the movement associated with this” (OED). There are many ways in which the word feminism can be interpreted. Over the years, it has been thought of as many different things; however, we tend to agree now that feminism is the equality of the sexes. This word has been a controversial one at times, but it has also remained a word that provides great empowerment for many women, especially after such a long time of being oppressed in comparison to men. Though feminism means equality, it also represents women as strong and independent forces, like we will further examine in the literary works discussed in class. 


1851, “qualities of females;” 1895, “advocacy of women’s rights;” from French féminisme (1837); see feminine + -ism. Also, in biology, “development of female secondary sexual characteristics in a male” (1875). Literature is able to help us think about feminism in a more nuanced way by providing real examples about real women. Often times, hypothetical situations may go over one’s head, but when presented with real situations from women’s lives, people are able to grasp the value of women empowerment. Feminism is such a prominent term all throughout history, because it has evolved so much. It is now a term that bonds women together in a type of sisterhood, to stand against the inequality they have faced through the years. Women support other women through this term, and authors provide prominent works of literature to further strengthen this bond.

Keyword in Action: 

The book Mean by Myriam Gurba is a mix between true-crime, memoir, and ghost story. Gurba uses humor in unusual ways to depict traumatic events that happened to her throughout her childhood. She uses her story as an inspiration to women everywhere, through her heroic acts of feminism. Though Gurba frequently references feminism throughout her story, she doesn’t always do so in a way that paints men and women as equals, like the dictionary definition would suggest. For example, during the scene on the playground where the boy asks to join her girls only club, she states “You and your friends can join our club if you climb to the top of this…and jump” (Gurba, 14). Gurba knows that the fence she is asking the boy to climb is many stories high and would be an impossible feat for a young boy. However, young Gurba also understands that girls are frequently treated unequal to boys, and not given the same opportunities. She is creating a similar situation to put the boys at a disadvantage, instead of the girls for a change. She is protecting the sacred space among girls that they have created where they are free from the influence, expectations, and gaze of these boys. Gurba states “I hoped Steve would injure himself and die so that I wouldn’t have to let him into my club. That had been my strategy. To give his sex an insurmountable initiation. Like the literacy tests given to black folks in the American South before the Voting Rights Act passed. I was an early-onset feminist” (Gurba, 15). Gurba is, admittedly, a feminist from a young age. However, in her version of feminism, she recognizes that equality is not always equity, as shown in her reference to the literacy tests for African Americans. Whereas equality implies the same for everybody, equity entails appropriate opportunities for everybody, depending on their needs. In this situation, Gurba is proving how strong of a woman she is by not letting yet another boy get his way so easily, and challenging him, just as women have historically been challenged. This is showcasing Gurbas strength for bringing light to unspoken topics such as sexual assault and being the women who fights back. 

In addition to Gurbas examples of girls not being treated equally to boys, Gurba depicts a method that women can stick up for themselves. In the book Mean, Gurba is constantly showcasing her desire for equality for women and showing how women need to stick up for themselves in a male dominated society. In the quote, “We act mean to defend ourselves from boredom and from those who would chop off our breasts. We act mean to defend out clubs and institutions. We act mean because we like to laugh. Being mean to boys is fun and a second-wave feminist duty. Being rude to men who deserve it is a holy mission. Sisterhood is powerful, but being a bitch is more exhilarating. Being a bitch is spectacular.(Gurba, 16), Gurba’s efforts towards encouraging women not to conform to society’s expectations of being the nice girl is evident. She believes that this is the right way to act towards men due to the fact that men think it is okay to act in derogatory ways to women. In addition, she states, “He pushes her legs apart. He pulls out his corn and kneels. Blood pours from her cheek, nose, and head as he feeds himself into her. (Gurba, 2), Gurba is explaining the disrespect that certain men have for women. For a man to sexually assault a woman and rob her of her privacy is one of the lowest acts a human can perform. When sexual assault happens, ninety-one percent are women and nine percent are men. This proves how men hold dominance over women in a repulsive way. Gurba is clear to explain how he forced himself into her. For this man to push her legs apart shows how much control he had and she didn’t, which should never be that way. Gurba makes it clear to what is happening and describes his male genitalia as corn, which is imaginative. She talks about the actions that the rest of society does not. This showcases how society treats sexaul assault in a poor manner. This is shown in the scene with Mr. Hand, when Gurba wrote, “My time with him taught me how to be quietly molested” (Gurba, 25). This is evidence of how society turns a blind eye to sexual assault, and Mr. Hand is simply one example. Gurba has strength for bringing light to unspoken topics such as sexual assault and speaking the dark truth.  

In the book Citizen by Claudia Rankine, she discusses the troubles of being african american through a series of stories about those who have suffered at the hands of racism and sexism. Traditionally, gender equality is the primary topic when discussing feminism, but Rankine explores how race and gender intersect in complex ways, and as a result makes the reader think about the word feminism in different ways. She shows in a few different ways how being a woman, as well as a person of color, makes life disproportionately difficult. For example, Rankine writes, “And when the woman with multiple degrees says, I didn’t know black women could get cancer, instinctively you take two steps back though all urgency leaves the possibility of any kind of relationship as you realize nowhere is where you will get from here” (Rankine, 45), here, Rankine points her finger at racist and damaging stereotypes held by women. Rankine is acknowledging the fact that men aren’t alone in their racism, women can be racist too. Rankine also states how creating a relationship with this woman would get her nowhere; by stating that the relationship would be counterproductive, shet  could be hinting that trying to reform racist mindsets is not worth the trouble. This opens up the discussion about how to end racism, and create gender inequality, so that future generations do not have to endure what previous generations have endured. 

Rankine has given so many women a voice, even if they aren’t aware of the voice they have been given. Her empowering words honors voices that have been repressed, criticized, or  erased for far too long. Rankine’s work is powerful and heavily advocates for the equality women deserve. When reading the excerpt about Serena Williams, it provoked many feelings, rage being one of them. We see the way Serena Williams is treated, one of the most powerful women athletes in our country, yet she receives improper treatment, that she can’t react to. This not only shows her strength, but it shows her resilience. Rankine said “You begin to think, maybe erroneously, that this other kind of anger is really a type of knowledge: the type that both clarifies and disappoints. It responds to insult and attempted erasure simply by asserting presence, and the energy required to present, to react, to assert is accompanied by visceral disappointment: a disappointment in the sense that no amount of visibility will alter the ways in which one is perceived” (Rankine, 24). Women should be angry by the way they are treated; it is unfair. Anger is what has driven so many women to fight for equality, but anger shouldn’t be held against them. This quote exemplifies how women are labeled and displays the inequalities they face.

In conclusion, feminism is an extremely important keyword that has been used and evolved all throughout history. These two prominent authors, Myriam Gurba and Claudia Rankine, have demonstrated and defined feminism all throughout their works of literature. Their novels have worked to inspire readers everywhere to learn about and practice feminism in their everyday lives. Feminism is the word that represents equality and independence of women, and these authors have worked to successfully strengthen a bond between women. 

Works Cited 

“Feminism, n.” Feminism, n. : Oxford English Dictionary,

“Feminism (n.).” Index,

Fisher , Cullen. “Statistics about Sexual Violence.” Statistics about Sexual Violence.

Gurba, Myriam. Mean. Coffee House Press, 2017.Rankine, Claudia. Citizen: an American Lyric. Penguin Books, 2015


By Emma Fryer, Kayla Brizzell, Mikaila Scheppmann

When we think of ghosts, we think of spirits and scary stories. But there is more to this word than the supernatural. “Ghost” is a reference to what once was… yet still lingers, and can be physical, emotional, mental, or spiritual. Ghosts are common within literature, and often appear in relation to the past. They are most often symbolized by writers as moments within one’s personal history that follow them through life, often creating a burden or weight that causes inner conflict. This is demonstrated within many pieces of literature, including The Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston and Mean by Myriam Gurba. The authors depict ghosts in their writings to show how different events or stories affect their characters. Said characters are “haunted” by these events or stories, and they continue to think about them and base their future decisions upon them. These ghosts have the ability to shape the characters as people and affect the way they interpret the world around them. Characters such as Kingston and Gurba are perfect examples of this within their own memoirs.

The masculine word “ghost” was inherited from the Common West Germanic Languages such as Old English, Dutch, and German. Across all of these languages, the word “is found with substantially identical meaning” (Oxford English Dictionary). This meaning is: “an apparition of a dead person which is believed to appear or become manifest to the living…” (Lexico). By using this definition, we are drawing on the Latin word “spiritus,” meaning that a ghost is not a physical thing, but more of a feeling or presence of something ominous (Oxford English Dictionary). This idea can be identified within both A Woman Warrior and Mean frequently.

A prime literary example that depicts ghosts is The Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston. Throughout the memoir, the author stresses the importance of the past and the impact that it has on people’s lives and worldviews. This idea is expressed in multiple instances, specifically during descriptions of Kingston’s personal experiences growing up. One instance in particular is the “No Name Woman” story in which Brave Orchid, the author’s mother, reveals to Kingston the truth about their family history. Brave Orchid informs her daughter of the aunt she once had that killed herself, as well as her infant child. The tragic event was a result of the shame and isolation that came to her due to childbirth outside of marriage. The first line of the memoir reads, “‘You must not tell anyone,” my mother said, “what I am about to tell you,”’implying right away that the story is a secret within the vault of their past. However, Kingston has a bit of a loud mouth.

This chilling tale is engraved in the author’s head, and proceeds to follow her for years to come. Its haunting nature eventually pushes Kingston to tell the world the secret through her memoir. The author reveals this in saying, “My aunt haunts me— her ghost drawn to me because now, after fifty years of neglect, I alone devote pages of paper to her…” (16). “Ghost” is used here in a spiritual way. When Kingston says, “My aunt haunts me,” she is referring to both her passed relative’s soul and the burden of her story. She wishes to honor her aunt’s forgotten memory, and do justice to her unfortunate death. However, she also wishes to rid her mind of the tale that haunts her, much like an exorcism. Her aunt had infiltrated her head and heart in a way that made her eerie legacy impossible to ignore, almost as if she had possessed her niece The sharing of the story is Kingston’s way of performing her own exorcism, and freeing her aunt’s heavy soul.

In addition, Kingston depicts ghosts in reference to the unknown. Within the chapter “Shaman,” the author describes the elements of Western life that made her feel alienated as a Chinese American in the United States. She uses the term in reference to people and things that are foreign to her. Kingston writes, “But America has been full of machines and ghosts… Once upon a time the world was so thick with ghosts, I could hardly breathe; I could hardly walk, limping my way around the White Ghosts and their cars” (96-97). She then goes on to say that she looked at everyday civilians and workmen as not normal people, but “Garbage Ghosts,” “Meter Reader Ghosts,” “Newsboy Ghosts,” etc. Kingston’s depiction of ghosts in this way is an expression of her feelings within this period of her life: ordinary things are not so ordinary in a world in which you feel you don’t belong. She sees even simple things such as newsboys as completely estranged, and thus refers to them as ghosts. Kingston lacks a sense of connection or belonging to Western life, and therefore looks at America as a graveyard.This is because it is as if she is treading through another world entirely: the world of the supernatural.

Another text that depicts ghosts is Mean by Myriam Gurba. This memoir navigates Gurba’s discovery of her racial and sexual differences throughout life and retells her past trauma through humor. Gurba opens up with telling the story of the rape and murder of a woman named Sophia. Gurba states that, “Sophia is always with me. She haunts me.” (79) and, “She still doesn’t leave me alone. She’s still here.” (219). Here it is evident that although Sophia is not alive, she haunts Gurba with her story of sexual assault. Gurba is constantly assaulted with the memory of Sophia in everything that she does. Even through her writing, Sophia is interrupting Gurba’s thoughts like a haunting and resurfacing sexual trauma that she experienced. 

According to Gurba, survivor’s guilt can also be a ghost. In her writing she expresses that, “Guilt is a ghost” (14).  The reader discovers later in the reading that Gurba had partied with her friends on the same spot that Sophia, a young Mexican woman like her, was beaten, raped, and killed. When Gurba finds out about the murder, she remembers having thrown empty alcohol bottles on Sophia’s “grave,” or the place where she was assaulted and killed, and expresses that, “I was allowed to escape. I was allowed to walk away from that spot. Sophia was not” (79). She also repeats the same phrase that, “Guilt is a ghost” (79). This guilt arises from the fact that Gurba was also assaulted by Sophia’s murderer, and therefore she feels a connection to her. Sophia wasn’t as lucky, which causes the author to be heavily impacted by her story. The author makes it very clear that the term “ghost” can represent intense feelings that have the ability to “haunt” you. Gurba is left with this “survivor’s guilt ghost” that follows her throughout her life. Even while writing her memoir, these feelings of guilt and pain interrupts her thoughts and impact her mind in an intrusive way. 

Gurba also depicts her sister Ofelia, who is struggling with anorexia, as a ghost. Ofelia is described as, “wispy and quiet as a ghost,” giving the reader a clear image of how the young girl’s body appears (76). Not only does it paint her physical appearance, but she also develops a deeper meaning— that Ofelia is being overtaken, or possessed, by her eating disorder. It alters her personality and reduces her to skin and bones much as a demon is thought to do in horror movies and stories. Ofelia’s eating disorder is also connected to Catholicism. Gurba states that, “I knew the stories of Ofelia’s spiritual antecedents…Their stories are fed to Catholic girls as exemplars of good girlhood. Good girlishness resists gluttony. Good girlishness resists pleasure. Good girls prove their virtue by getting rid of themselves” (77). This is a very powerful statement because Gurba is showcasing that Ofelia is attempting to become holy by starving herself. She is reaching for something “spiritual,” which connects to the theme of ghosts. Ofelia is attempting to embody one of these pious ghosts out of admiration and religious devotion, but her actions ironically lead to the withering of her body into a hollow outline.

Authors often include “ghosts” within their texts in order to demonstrate the impact something can have on a character’s development and everyday life. By reshaping the idea of what a ghost is, literature can offer readers a deeper understanding of what it means to be haunted, whether it be physically, mentally, or spiritually. While a ghost is typically thought of as something non-existing or supernatural, literature challenges this by representing the word in many different lights. Authors around the world have taught us that a ghost can also be anything from a traumatic event, to a story, to a feeling, whether it be personal or not, that burdens the living in one way or another. From understanding the word “ghost” in its multiple forms, we can better understand the pieces of writing we admire in a more complex way than ever before.

Works Cited

Gurba, Myriam. Mean. Coffee House Press, 2017.

Image courtesy of Stefano Pollio, retrieved from

Kingston, Maxine Hong. The Woman Warrior. Vintage International, 1976.

Lexico Powered by Oxford. “Ghost: Definition of Ghost by Lexico.” Lexico Dictionaries English, Lexico Dictionaries, 2019,

Oxford University Press. “Discover the Story of EnglishMore than 600,000 Words, over a Thousand Years.” Home : Oxford English Dictionary, 2019,


Miranda Cobo, Lauren Cupelli, and Treasa Kozakiewicz


The Oxford dictionary defines culture as, “The distinctive ideas, customs, social behaviour, products, or way of life of a particular nation, society, people, or period. Hence: a society or group characterized by such customs, etc.”(OED) It is diverse in many ways including the style of art they have or even just the way they live their daily lives. Another way the dictionary defines culture is,  “The philosophy, practices, and attitudes of an institution, business, or other organization.” (OED) These characteristics are unique to the specific area or business and what makes them different from others. Finally it is also defined as, “Refinement of mind, taste, and manners; artistic and intellectual development. Hence: the arts and other manifestations of human intellectual achievement regarded collectively.” (OED) All these definitions reflect on the importance of culture in a community. 


< Anglo-Norman and Middle French culture  (14th cent. or earlier in Anglo-Norman), the development of language and literature (1549), artistic and intellectual conditions of a community and the development of their customs, beliefs, and ideas of a group (1796, after German Kultur) (OED). 

Keyword in Action:

Stories can teach us about different cultures and belief systems. Culture further educates and helps us understand the “norms” and values of various peoples from around the world. These stories are passed down from family to family line and it keeps secrets, viewpoints, and family backgrounds alive. Culture influences literature through religious ideas, moral values, language, and gender norms. The way literature is written can influence the way readers view other cultures, either negatively or positively depending on the way it is written. Reading literature has provided methods of reading about different cultures, it helps you understand what it is like to live in other cultures and get other experiences that one may not have unless given the opportunity. By reading about culture in literature, you can learn about the history of where you come from, and it can also help you grow as a person and learn more about yourself. The culture expressed in each reading we were given this semester showed what we should be thinking about each person’s certain view on life. We, as people should be taking every culture into consideration while we reading and throughout life. No culture is more important than another and no one culture should be looked down upon compared to another. 

Culture plays a big role in A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry. A Raisin in the Sun was written in 1959 in the midst of the Civil Rights Movement and gender inequalities. The play is written about an African-American family living in Chicago. During the time period that it was written, women, especially African-American women, were not seen as equal to everyone else in society. This was something that was incredibly frustrating to the character Beneatha. She was attending medical school and she had a dream to become a doctor. Although her family supported her in paying for medical schooling, it is clear because of the culture she was surrounded by they thought it seemed far-fetched. Walter, her older brother, tells her, “Who the hell told you you had to be a doctor?…go be a nurse like other women– or just get married and be quiet” (38). Walter says this because this is what he believes, and the way that he has grown up he has been told that men are dominant figures, as his mother is always talking about a “man of the house.” During this time period, it was not common for women to become doctors or find their own independence like Beneatha is trying to do. Patricia Hill Collins disscusses this idea in her book, Black Feminist Thought. Collins discusses the issues of African-Americans finding jobs and how especially hard it is for black women. However, as generations progress, the ideas of job inequality starts to become less acceptable. “But despite the harshness of their environments, the girls in the earlier sample still ‘had high hopes and dreams that their futures would be positive and productive’” (63).  

In The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts by Maxine Hong Kingston, she writes about herself feeling stuck between two cultures. In this book of memoirs, she tells her internal and external struggles of coming to find her identity. Growing up as a first-generation American, she is constantly battling between her mother telling her stories of Chinese culture and going along with American culture. In the beginning of the book, she tells the story about a “No Name Woman,” who is actually her aunt that her family has tried to banish from their memory. The story seems like something that sounds fictional to her. She wonders, “What is Chinese tradition and what is the movies?” (6). As a child, the imagination is a very big part of life and usually runs wild. In addition to what goes on in her own mind, she has her mother filling it with even more information, leaving her to have trouble deciphering the real stories of her and her family’s Chinese history from the fake ones. Another example of the Chinese culture being confusing in her life is right before her mom tells her the story of Fa Mulan. She states, “My American life has been such a disappointment. ‘I got straight A’s, Mama.’ ‘Let me tell you a true story of a girl who saved her village’. I could not figure out what was my village” (45). In American culture, it is very common to see good grades as valuable. However, Kingston’s mom does not seem to care about them. Instead, she goes on to tell her about a story of a woman warrior, and it puzzles Kingston because she is trying to follow American culture. Meanwhile, her mother is trying to teach her about where she comes from and implement Chinese culture and values into her daily living. As a young girl, Kingston has a hard time finding the balance between two cultures: her American life in society and Chinese life in her home.

In summation, culture is a very important part of literature. Certain areas of the world have various practices and traditions. The social lives across the world are much different than one may think and that is what makes our society a great one. Each practice is so sacred to the people who follow them. It is passed down from generations and a way for people to learn more about their pasts. Some examples of this would be through religion or even language. We have read novels like A Raisin in the Sun and The Woman Warrior where they express different versions of lifestyles, which goes to show that no culture is the same. On the one hand you have a lower class African American family trying their best to get by while Benetha searches for any information she can find on the African culture. On the other hand you have a young Asian child listening carefully to the stories her mother tells her in hopes to find out where she comes from and the history that follows. Although they have very different pasts, both daughters are looking for the same thing, the culture and roots that they stem from. Culture is an immense part of our lives and will very likely continue to be so forever.

Works Cited 

Collins, Patricia Hill. Black Feminist Thought. Routledge, 2015.

Hansberry, Lorainne. A Raisin in the Sun. Random House Inc., 1958.

Kingston, Maxine Hong. The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood among Ghosts. Picador Classic, 2015.

“The Oxford English Dictionary.” The Oxford English Dictionary, Oxford University Press, 2004.

Photo credit to by Adolfo Felix


Image by garageband from Pixabay 

by Samantha Brigandi, Lindsay Czechowski and Lily Latham


The scope of art there is to be created and observed is hard to capture in any singular definition. The Oxford English Dictionary provides this one basic definition of art as, “skill in doing something, esp. as the result of knowledge or practice.” This definition is simple and fails to capture the magnitude of art. The OED provided another, broader definition as, “the expression or application of creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting, drawing, or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power.” Indeed, art is a form of expression which encompasses vast forms of work. These works are seen in pictures and texts as they greet us on book covers, paintings, photographs, and poems.


The etymology of art stems from Latin and encompasses a broad spectrum of what art came to be defined as. As told by the OED the etymology from its basic Latin root is: classical Latin arti- , ars professional, artistic, or technical skill, craftsmanship, artificial methods, human ingenuity, artificiality, crafty action, trick, stratagem, craftiness, guile, personal characteristic or quality, systematic body of knowledge and practical techniques, magic, one of the fine or liberal arts, profession, craft, trade, task, pursuit, artistic achievement or performance, artistic design or representation, work of art, device, contrivance, rules or principles of an art, treatise, method, system, procedure, principle of classification, in post-classical Latin also guild (from 1380 in British sources).

Art in Action

As the very first thing we see, covers are what draws potential readers in. It is said to not judge a book by its cover, but in reality everyone judges the book by what they see first. The cover can also allude to some aspect of the book luring the reader into it. The cover can show so much while also leaving so much to imagination which may force a person looking at the book to pick it up and read it. First impressions are important and the cover is the first impression of a book. The cover of a book says a lot about it and what the reader should expect while reading.

Art in Literature

The keyword “art” is definitive of all the literature we read, in all styles, and carries over to the endless list of visual art forms there are to be observed. Literature as an artform has many faces and does not adhere to only great Shakespearean style dramas or poems. We see literature both as art and in art. Traditional forms of art such as drawing and painting are sometimes coupled with literature to create dramatic effect or emphasis. This emphasis is important to recognize and note when reading. Uses of visual art in text can often require research on the end of the reader to better understand the context and importance of a piece. As the saying goes, “a picture is worth a thousand words,” and so pictures included in literature may be looked at as very extensive footnotes. 

The cover of Citizen by Claudia Rankine can tell a lot about the book based solely on what is shown. Citizen is a powerful piece of literature that explains the prejudice and violence toward African Americans. The cover shows a black hoodie but just the hood is present. It looks as though the hood was torn off of the rest of the sweatshirt and it is free standing on the white background. This representation shows the isolated violence that is perpetuated against people of color as the book primarily focuses on. The cover is absent of any colors besides black and white which signifies the issues of race. These details are all intentional and lend themselves to valuable interpretations.

The cover of Zong! by M. NourbeSe Philip relates a lot of information to the reader about the book without even saying a word.  Zong! by M. NourbeSe Philip is a book of poems that represent the lives of slaves on slave ships that would be given no representation or rememberance otherwise. The cover shows mainly black and white images with one red dot in the middle. The background shows waves which represents the story within the book and the slave ships. The ships that this violence occurred on was called the Zong, hence the name of the book. There is also a bone and where the joint would be there is a red circle with some sort of symbol inside. The bones represent the fact that the slaves were thrown overboard and they died at sea. The red can represent the violence and bloodshed that occurred during the historical actions of the Zong ship. The symbol in the middle of the red dot sort of looks like a z, which could represent the ship, without using the letter z blatantly. These aspects let the reader know a lot about the book before even beginning to read and once the book is read, the cover can provide details that were not seen before. 

The covers of a book provide interest and entice  the reader before they even lay eyes on the words. The cover is just the beginning of a literary piece of art, such as a book. The words create a visual while using literary elements to expand art in a different way. The relationship between form and content is strengthened by visual aesthetics. The introductory art of the cover opens the doors for art found throughout the pages.

Zong! by M. NourbeSe Philip

M. NourbeSe Philip took up the daunting and haunting task of making a work of art out of tragedy. Her poetry book Zong! dictates the ghostly retelling of the Zong massacre by way of found poetry. A “found poem” according to Merriam-Webster Dictionary is, “a poem consisting of words found in a nonpoetic context (such as a product label) and usually broken into lines that convey a verse rhythm.” Her poems were made from the reconstructed words of Gregson vs Gilbert, the public document concerning the legal case of the Zong massacre. Through careful reconstruction of the document she made poems that are as visually enticing as they are thought provoking. Found poems carry on the essence of “found object” art made popular by surrealist artists. Surrealism was created to disturb and disrupt its observers by forcing them to break from social norms and conventions. Philip’s poetry requires readers to break away from their typical reader norms and stream of consciousness a reader would typically experience. 

This disruptive and deconstructive form of found art can serve to multiply literary meaning. As pictured above in Zong! #20  the visual aesthetics of the poem provoke curiosity. Philip uses anaphoras, “this necessity,” “this quantity” and the repeated use of “the” in the second stanza to lull the reader into some sense of stability. We see the closeness of the text and it allows the first half of the poem to be read coherently. This structure is destabilized at the end of the second stanza and the readers eyes are forced to follow and make patterns of the remaining words. These words are not as benign as the first two stanzas and we see the independence of words like “drowned” as more ominous in this position. The artistry of Philip’s work with words and space keeps readers on their toes and constantly constructing new ideas around how the lines interact. 

“The Slave Ship” by J. M. W. Turner

The use of historical paintings in modern literature works to bring the reader to a moment captured in time and serves as a way to multiple meanings of the text. Traditional art styles, like Turner’s painting, are used to invoke emotion which can be used as a visual aid for readers. Turner’s painting is an impressionist representation about the gruesome events that took place on the Zong ship. This image appears, and reappears as a close-up, at the end of Citizen. Impressionist paintings, by definition, are made to leave a lasting impression. This painting acts as a vibrant visual reminder of the violence and horror surrounding Zong. Rankine uses a close up of the bottom left of the image, where white fish and chained body parts are seen floating in the water. The emphasis on the details in Turner’s work are used by Rankine to bring the viewer to pause and examine what is being expressed in the painting. The benefit of this technique lies in the emotional response experienced by the audience. What could be overlooked on a museum wall is repeatedly represented in Rankine’s final pages to bring the reader to a moment of reflection. Ending the book on a reflection of words and vivid images serves to keep the lessons of the text relevant and clear. 

Soundsuits by Nick Cave 

Claudia Rankine’s Citizen is an honest collection of events pointing out the racial flaws in society. The art in this book is embedded within the text, matching the stories being told. One of the main stories told in Citizen is about gold medal winner, tennis guru, Serena Williams and her battle with several referees for correct calls during matches. Through the racial injustices, Serena realizes “every bad call blossoms out of history”(Rankine, 32). This sculpture by Nick Cave is meant to show how history has a way of covering its tracks, making everything seem beautiful, like the flowers on the back of this person. These vibrant blossoms cover this person who is wearing a dark suit in an uncomfortable position. This stance parallels a reporter’s description of Serena Williams “Crip-Walking all over the most lily-white place in the world”(Rankine, 33). Serena Williams dominates the game of tennis that is considered to be a sport for the caucasion population. However, this is just another racial injustice made against the black population, putting people down for their success. This art expresses an eeriness from the person modeling the sculpture being overwhelmed with beauty, so much so that it weighs them down.

Uncertain, yet Reserved by Toyin Odutola

Rankine, later, throws emphasis on the tragedy that was Hurricane Katrina. This hurricane had devastating effects on everyone it hit, however it was the most devastating to the black population of the affected area. These people did not get the help they should have in this catastrophic time. They were suffering from “dehydration, from overheating, from no electricity, no power, no way to communicate” and just trying to survive (Rankine, 85). Throughout this chapter of Citizen, the question “Did you see their faces?” continuously pops up (Rankine, 86). Ironically, FEMA did not go to the areas that needed the most help because “it wasn’t safe to be there” (Rankine, 84). Even though it is FEMA’s job to save the lives of innocent people, they left an entire population of black people in danger of the hurricane while the white people were saved. This led black people to think “they forgot about us” (Rankine, 84). This artwork by Toyin Odutola is a counterpart to Rankine’s story, showing the audience the victims’ faces as the water consumes their being during the hurricane. The colors in this painting reflect off of the face like water does when people are near or under it. Black people said “we are drowning here” (Rankine, 85). A statement like that can only evoke so much emotion and thought. This is why art is so significant, especially in a book like Citizen. Art brings out emotions and makes an audience understand where other people are coming from without words. Citizen uses both stories and art to make the audience aware of the issues that history continues to repeat.

In conclusion the value of art to literature is immeasurable and the presence of outside art forms in text should be closely looked at. The meaning of a story or poem can be magnified and multiplied by use of artistic style or reference. Reader’s should stay attentive to what art is used in a text and the historical relevance of the work. As literature itself is an artform, a reader should always be conscious of the alternative art forms used to multiply meaning.

Works cited 

“Found poem.” The Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., Accessed 5 December 2019.

 “art, n.1.”OED Online, Oxford University Press,  December 2019, Accessed 5 December 2019.

Philip, Marlene Nourbese. Zong! as Told to the Author by Setaey Adamu Boateng. Wesleyan Univ. Press, 2008.

Rankine, Claudia, and Stephen Sachs. Citizen: an American Lyric. Dramatists Play Service Inc., 2018.


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Cultural Assimilation in Literature

By Makense, Ryan, Chris 


The Merriam-Webster Dictionary provides us with multiple meanings of “assimilation.” Assimilation is a noun and defined as “the process through which individuals and groups of differing heritages acquire the basic habits, attitudes, and mode of life of an embracing culture” (MWD). Assimilation has a couple of related terms such as acculturation and amalgamation. Although these three words deal with culture, there are notable differences. For example, acculturation deals with “political conquest or expansion, and is applied to the process of change in beliefs or traditional practices that occurs when the cultural system of one group displaces that of another” (MWD). Amalgamation is “a blending of cultures, rather than one group eliminating another or one group mixing itself into another” (MWD). In essence, assimilation is adjusting one’s attitudes, behaviors, traditions, or customs in an attempt to blend in with the dominant culture.


< In Physiology, “absorb into and make part of the body,” from Latin assimilatus, past participle of assimilare, assimulare “to make like, copy, imitate, assume the form of; feign, pretend,” from assimilated form of ad “to” + simulare “make similar,” from similis “like, resembling, of the same kind.”

Keyword in Action 

One way to remember this word is to break down the word (as) and (similate) which means trying to be as similar to another culture or nation. The influence of assimilationism can be seen in Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in The Sun, through the play’s racially segregated society when Mr. Linder oppresses the Younger family, and the values of Asagai and George. 

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In Act II scene III, the Younger family wanted to move into a nicer neighborhood. Residing in a White neighborhood, indicated for the Younger family that they are able to support themselves like a White, not like a “low” Black person. By moving into Clybourne Park, a predominantly white neighborhood, the Younger family will inevitably adapt and confine into the White culture. 

Image result for asagai a raisin in the sun

Asagai, George, and Beneatha all show the different perspectives of assimilation. Asagai advocates to keep his culture alive. In Act II, when Beneatha says, “Mr. Asagai – I want very much to talk with you .. I am looking for my identity!” she goes to Asagai to educate her about African culture (62). After being in America for a limited amount of time, Asagai sees that black people have abandoned their heritage and assimilate into White culture. 

Image result for george murchison and beneatha

George, Beneatha’s suitor, does not want to acknowledge his African culture because he is ashamed of his heritage (Hansberry 80). George remarks to Beneatha that her heritage is “nothing but a bunch of raggedy – assed spirituals and some grass huts!” (Hansberry 81). George is a scholarly man who cares and wants to further his future but knows the barriers of doing so because he is African American. In essence, George condemns his African heritage to appear more “white” and to be accepted by society so that he can achieve the future he wants. 

In Act II scene I, Beneatha remarks that she is not an assimilationist negroe (51). George Murchison has a heated debate with her when he comes to pick her up and she is dancing with her brother in a traditional African costume. It appears that George has assimilated to white culture by the way he dresses as well as the way he acts. He talks about their heritage negatively and chides Beneatha for wearing the African garb. Beneatha tells him that she is not an assimilationist and that she would rather stay true to her heritage than try to be more like a white person. An example of this would be her hair. She does not try to straighten it to look like a white woman’s hair, but instead lets it grow naturally into an afro. As seen throughout the play, Assimilation occurs because black people want to be equal to the dominantly white society. 

The Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston, a Chinese American writer, is a memoir that introduces the struggle of assimilating to the American culture while growing up in a Chinese household. However, it is not the main idea of the memoir. This memoir holds only a few instances of assimilation in her life.  Kingston shares her feelings of displacement and frustration due to being a Chinese-American. Being the first generation born in America, it was troublesome to appease the restrictions of the traditions of the emigrants with the relative freedom of life in America. Being Chinese-American typically means one is torn between each world while not being a part of either. Kingston feels different from her American classmates as she does from her own relatives. For a Chinese-American woman it would be frustrating because of the several everyday traits of a Chinese woman, for example, a loud speaking voice which stereotypically they do not have. Kingston never went to China while writing her memoir. She struggled to delineate the distinction between what was Chinese and what was peculiar to her family. In a way Kingston was assimilating to the American culture while struggling to keep up with her own Chinese culture. She has only really experienced the American culture rather than her own Chinese culture.

The last Chapter of Kingston’s memoir “A song for a barbarian reed pipe” lists a few examples of how Kingston struggled with the American culture growing up. Kingston states “When I went to kindergarten and had to speak English for the first time, I became silent. A dumbness-a shame-still cracks my voice in two” (Kingston 165). This quote displays the difficulty of being soft spoken and having the fear that Kingston faced trying to speak English. Furthermore, Kingston began to struggle more than before due to her being so silent causing her to flunk kindergarten. In addition, her sister and other Chinese girls had also been silent, displaying a wider range of who it affected. Assimilation in Kingston’s memoir refers more to the Latin etymology, to make similar or to copy. Many different cultures had been forced to assimilate to the English culture, for example, the Native Americans who had their land taken by the voyagers. Kingston mentions a story told by her mother, the story in summary is about a Chinese poet who was forced to assimilate to a Non-Chinese barbarian tribe. However, this poet could not fully assimilate to the Non-Chinese people. Kingston brings this story into her memoir because the poet reminds Kingston of herself and her own mother referring to themselves as foreigners.

Another instance of assimilation in A Woman Warrior, by Maxine Hong Kingston is the failed expectations a “new world” can bring. Kingston has all these amazing ideas of what America was going to be like for her, although her childhood during the story is about as regular as any other child in America at her time. Her failed expectations for America are highlighted when Kingston states, “From the words on my back, and how they were fulfilled, the villagers would make a legend about my perfect filiality. My American life has been such a disappointment” (45). Kingston must have had all these expectations of what America would be like for her, but as she grows up she realizes her life is not extraordinary. With assimilation, high expectations that are often not met are often seen. Especially with groups moving to the United States, they may expect the roads to be “paved with gold,” but in reality it is very similar to their original location (besides language & general culture). Also, a threat of assimilation and its failed expectations are potential racism, and that is seen all throughout “A Raisin in the Sun,” by Lorraine Hansberry.

Works Cited

“Assimilation | Search Online Etymology Dictionary.” Index, 

“Assimilation.” Merriam-Webster, Merriam-Webster,

Hansberry, Lorraine. A Raisin in the Sun. New York, 1959.

Kingston, Maxine Hong. The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of A Girlhood Among Ghosts. Vintage International, 1976.

Power by Pilar Paez, Andrea Moro, Daniel Walsh

Picture accredited to Aldo BlandonVevo via

Power. The ability to perform or act a certain way, particularly as a faculty, meaning an authoritative figure. The word power was originally derived from the Latin word potere, which means “to be able.” Our definition and use of power is much more than to just “be able,” but to exert a large amount of force or to have authority over a person or groups of people. There have been numerous instances where individuals who contain such amounts of power take advantage. This is where the negative connotations of the word begin. No one who is actually sane wants to contain all the power that is possible to have. There are those who do, and use this to their own benefit without the worry of others. Stories such as Zong! exert examples on power within their historical backgrounds. The Transatlantic Slave Trade as well as our days in the Jim Crow laws, to modern day racism are real-life examples that exemplify the abusive nature of these people.  However, on the other hand, a positive side of power is that it has the ability to tell stories for those that cannot or are not ready. This side of power is unique in storytelling and it allows for the author to articulate what might have been lost in history or their own memories. Due to the freedom and ambiguity of storytelling, an author is able to convey ideas of their own or they may represent others. Power is the center of all of these concepts, and here is why. 

In the 15th century, amidst the Transatlantic Slave Trade, wealthy and predominantly white nations wreaked havoc on African societies. An estimated amount of 25 million Africans were forced out of their own country and enslaved into Western along with Arab nations. The forced transportation of these human beings resulted in an extremely uneven division of power among white nations and Africans. Zong!, a collection of found poems written by M. NourbeSe Philip serves as a narrative of the brutal treatment the African slaves faced particularly in 1781. A slave ship under the name of Zong and its crew were found guilty when they claimed they had lost the slaves at sea. In actuality, the crew made navigational mistakes leading them to lose out on various resources. In order to salvage their resources for the rest of the passengers and more importantly, collect the insurance money for ‘lost cargo,’ the crew decided to throw overboard the sick and dying slaves into the treacherous sea. More than 130 lives were lost that day, all because of the slavers’ greed and power over the slaves.

Zong! Page 44

Philip uniquely features the authority of the slavers over the slaves in Africa. By stating the subject of the crew and captain, she introduces other verbs like ‘authorize’ and ‘justify.’ These two words are empowering, and as readers, we can piece together these words to deduce that the crew and captain are the ones with the authority. Since they are higher on the social pyramid, they have the capability to defend their actions, especially when the victims are all lost at sea. 

This tragedy is often left out of historical remembrances and curricula and therefore, the voices of the slaves are forgotten and sometimes never even heard. This is likely due to the fact that the slaves were not seen as human beings, for they were thrown overboard like they were worthless. The names of these slaves will never be recounted on or even remembered, because the slavers held these human beings to the same value as cargo. The only voices that can recount on this traumatic incident are the perpetrators, or the ones with the power to speak. A famous abolitionist known as Granville Sharp attempted to bring charges of murder into the trial of Gregson v. Gilbert. However, the case ignored his pleas and recognized the slaves as merely chattel property: “…neither Captain Collingwood nor those who had helped in the massacre could be charged with murder, since what was destroyed, being property, was not capable of being murdered” (191). 

In an attempt to give the powerless slaves a voice, Philip creates found poems that highlight the despair of the slaves. Again, this merciless act is not often included in curricula, so who is there to speak about this significant, historic event? Philip tackles this task and picks up the responsibility of empowering the slaves’ voices in her found poems. 

Zong! Page 8

Instead of writing long passages about what may have happened in the tragedy, Philip utilizes the structure of found poems. In doing this, Philip emphasizes the idea that there are no proper amount of words or paragraphs to express the agony of the slaves after and during the happening.  Words such as ‘water,’ ‘sea,’ ‘lying dead,’ ‘of months,’ ‘of weeks,’ and ‘of days’ immediately point to descriptions of suffering. She focuses on the words that truly sums up the probable feelings and thoughts of the slaves and allows the reader to piece them together to create his/her/their own narrative. Philip allows the reader to essentially create their own feeling of helplessness and attribute that to the slaves in 1781. This unique style places emphasis on the power of literature, specifically found poems. Thus, Philip speaks on behalf of the helpless slaves, for they have been practically erased from history. 

The incident in 1781 exemplifies the merciless abuses of colonialism, the practice by which a powerful country controls another country or other countries (OED). Not only does power play a part in the relationship between a so-called superior being, but it also relates to the power of literature and storytelling. Dating back to the 15th century, power has been used to enhance voices that have talked enough and silence those that have not talked enough. Philip’s unique style of language in Zong! brings that silence to life while speaking for the lives that were lost in this catastrophic incident due to the overwhelming disparity of power.

The Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston is a memoir showing the difficulties of growing up in the United States as a Chinese-American. She is caught between the social norms of an American teenager and her Chinese culture, as being Chinese-American often means that one might feel a sense of mis-belonging. Kingston feels that she does not fit into either culture and therefore, feels discourse in her life. In order to compensate for her feelings of alienation, Kingston relies on power to reinforce her self-worth and identity in Chinese culture. Throughout her stories of her childhood, Kingston would start to tell fictional stories that may or may not have been true. She would become a strong, and powerful leader who leads her troops to greater. Kingston marks her sense of empowerment when she states that “I inspired my army, and I fed them. At night I sang to them glorious songs that came out of the sky and into my head” (37). Kingston loved to fantasize about being the most feared but loved warrior that ever walked the earth. This was a major learning experience for Kingston. She learned both about the danger of power through Brave Orchid, and how good it feels to be powerful through her fantasized stories about herself. Understanding the importance of power is critical in analyzing this part of the story. Her life has been a confusing journey between two cultures and her escapism through her stories in The Woman Warrior allow her and the reader to feel the empowerment inside of her. Fantasizing about control and power gave her an outlet to believing her self-worth. 

As instances in Zong! demonstrated possessing too much power, or having absolutely none at all, there are examples seen further in Zong! and The Woman Warrior that reveal the positive side of power, particularly in storytelling. There is not one definition of power due to the various instances it has been seen in. From traditions to historical events to storytelling, power is spread all around and used in different forms whether it is bringing the harsh times of colonialism to light or it is expressing the author’s feelings about her life. With vivid examples such as the Transatlantic Slave Trade and Kingston’s account on her childhood, we have the ability to see how power unfolds in these situations secondhand. It is important to educate ourselves on the many notions that consume our modern day society, as well as literature. Power. 

Works Cited

Kingston, Maxine H. The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Childhood among Ghosts

Vintage, 1989.

Philip, M. NourbeSe. Zong! Wesleyan University Press, 2008.

Power (n.). (n.d.). Retrieved from

OED Online. Oxford University Press, September 2019. Web. 21 October 2019.


Book: Citizen An American lyric by Claudia Rankine


Microaggressions: A statement, action, or incident regarded as an instance of indirect, subtle, or unintentional discriminatioin or prejudice against members of a marginalized group such as a racial minority (“Microaggressions”).


Micro-meaning small or often microscopic, Aggression-meaning an unprovoked attack. The term was coined by American psychiatrist Chester M. Pierce. Its first known use was in 1970 Since then, the word has been used to refer to instances in which someone expresses prejudice ideas against a marginalized group (Deangelis, Tori).

How this term can help us read literary texts in a more nuanced way: 

Microaggressions are typically the subtle verbal and nonverbal racist comments, that most of the time go unrecognized. Since not all people experience microaggressions on a day to day basis, reading literary texts that involve this term helps those who do not experience the issue get a better understanding of its detrimental effects and the more subtle undertones of a texts that commentate on racism.  

Keyword in action:

Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine is a provocative study of race in the United States. The 2014 book is a criticism of American society through the use of boundary pushing poetry. Throughout the chapters, Rankine details the microaggressions her and her friends have experienced in order to express the way these encounters with subtle racism were hurtful. As well as this, Rankine explores other forms of racism such as systemic racism and police brutality. Citizen innovatively blurs the dividing lines of poetry and prose to expose the racism in the everyday lives of Black Americans.

Microaggressions are important to recognize in literature, as they often have serious ramifications in the real world. The real world ramifications are that microaggressions often cause an astronomical amount of stress and anxiety that can go unnoticed by many. In fact, being a black woman in America leads to having a higher risk of giving birth to a premature baby. This is due to the discriminatory practices that are built through microaggressions, such as black women not being able to get an equal education, housing discrimination, and overall not being paid as much as their white counterparts. As well as this, the stress of dealing with microaggressions can lead to stress during the labor process, which endangers the child (Chatterjee, Rhitu). Seemingly miniscule moments of subtle racism can lead to a lifetime of pain and worry.

Examples of microaggressions are employed throughout Citizen. Claudia Rankine helps non black readers gain insight into what it feels like to experience the humiliating consequences of microaggressions. Rankine lets a student cheat off of her and the student tells her “You smell good and have features more like a white person” (5). In this instance, Rankine is forced to take the comment as a thank you, in order to defend herself from the reality that this classmate sees her as undeserving of gratitude due to her race. As well as this, her teacher treats her as less valuable than the other students due to her race “Sister Evelyn must think these two girls think a lot alike or she cares less about cheating and more about humiliation or she never actually saw you sitting there” (Rankine 6). Rankine’s teacher also sees her, as well as her situation as being unworthy of recognition. Microaggressions are common in the medical field and Rankine experiences one when she visits a trauma counsellor “When the door finally opens, the woman standing there yells, at the top of her lungs, get away from my house! What are you doing in my yard?” (Rankine 18). The counsellor never once thought that a black woman would need help with her mental health. Due to stereotypes like these being held by professionals, black women are less likely to be helped and treated. In addition to not believing that a black woman could be there for an appointment, the counsellor assumed that because of Rankine’s race, she must be dangerous. The assumption that Rankine is an intruder is a racist stereotype within itself. This assumption is not only insulting to Rankine, but puts her life in danger. She could be forced to have an encounter with police who are looking for a problem that does not exist. These examples of microaggressions in the young life of Rankine, her friends and colleagues, and in the medical field help to portray their nasty consequences.  

All throughout Rankine’s lyric Citizen, readers get an insight on the prejudice experienced by members of minority groups. The stereotypes and racist incidents displayed are just a few of the things society has taught people to think are acceptable to think and say. We as readers need to take a closer look at the events that scream discrimination, but are often played off as nothing. We see that not only are microaggressions totally unacceptable simply because they are offensive, but we see how they also can affect a person’s physical state. 

  Microaggressions can be perpetrated by people who do not see themselves as holding racist beliefs. They can be perpetrated by those who are close and well known to the victim. For example, a friend mixes you up with another person of the same race, and only sees an issue with it when confronted. Rankine takes issue with one of her own friends when they say “You are late you nappy headed ho” (Rankine 41). Rankine replies by asking her friend to repeat herself , “‘What did you say?’ She doesn’t, perhaps she physically cannot, repeat what she has just said” (41). The friend was oblivious to the fact that addressing Rankine as a “nappy headed ho” would be something she might find degrading. Until Rankine calls her out, she saw the name as something that was funny, rather than rude and stereotypical. In this particular situation, Rankine stood up for herself, hopefully forcing her ‘friend’ to think about the things she says in the future. In some cases individuals accept this kind of behavior and move on, choosing to believe that it is not their responsibility to educate others.   

The next section of Citizen revolves less around specific experiences, but the effect they have on individuals. Rankine discusses the role the past and memory plays in all of this, and the way experiences can impact a person. She talks about the way individuals try and cope with the microaggressions they’re handed, but how eventually everything just feels numb “The head’s ache evaporates into a state of numbness, a cave of sighs” ( Rankine 62). This supports the idea that constantly being faced with discrimination and microaggressions can have a physical toll on a person.

There are many different forms of microaggressions scattered throughout the book, but not every chapter includes examples that Rankine has experienced. Rankine states “Words work as release—well-oiled doors opening and closing between intention, gesture. A pulse in a neck, the shiftiness of the hands, an unconscious blink, the conversations you have with your eyes translate everything and nothing” (69). The beginning of this chapter, seems almost as if Rankine is talking to someone, but she is talking to herself. Rankine explains her emotions through her tone, by voicing her opinion and using language to represent an internal conflict. There is a loss of self- identity within this book because of the way Rankine utilizes the word “you”.  Rankine says “You begin to move around in search of the steps it will take before you are thrown back into your own body, back into your own need to be found” (70). This quote details what it’s like to lose your own sense of self and identity, the “you” makes it as though the reader is the one who has lost themselves due to an overwhelming feeling of dread.

Groups of people including the LGBT community, those with disabilities, religious groups, and women are dealing with microaggressions for just being who they are “Those realities include the acts of everyday racism—remarks, glances, implied judgments—that flourish in an environment where more explicit acts of discrimination have been outlawed” (Wing Sue, Derald) In his article, Dr. Sue includes examples of microaggressions that are used on a day to day basis, which include remarks of people who are being judged on other qualities other than race. An example of a gender microaggression that he uses this would be “Whistles or catcalls are heard from men as a woman walks down the street” (Wing Sue, Derald). In this very common case, women are being treated strictly as a sexual object based off of their appearance. An example of a sexual orientation microaggression would be a young person using the term “gay” to describe a movie that they didn’t like. In this instance, the word gay is being used as a synonym for something that is bad. This reinforces the idea that being gay is bad. Society has normalized all of these occurrences because they happen so often, which is why there needs to be more thoughtfulness surrounding the language we choose to employ  (Wing Su, Derald).

Microaggressions will continue to exist among us in today’s society if no awareness is brought to them.  Rankine raises awareness toward microaggressions by pinpointing the little remarks that are made to her, and to others. By Rankine writing about these different situations, she is bringing situations to light that otherwise would go unnoticed. She is helping those who are unaccustomed to become more familiar with the everyday struggles of others, by making the reader use empathy and step into another persons shoes. 

Works Cited

Chatterjee, Rhitu, and Rebecca Davis. “How Racism May Cause Black Mothers To Suffer The Death Of Their Infants.” NPR, NPR, 20 Dec. 2017, 

Deangelis, Tori. “Unmasking ‘Racial Microaggressions’.” Monitor on Psychology, American Psychological Association,

Rankine, Claudia, 1963. Citizen : An American Lyric. Minneapolis, Minnesota :Graywolf Press, 2014.

Sue Wing, Derald “Microaggressions: More Than Just Race.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers.

“Microaggressions.” Merriam- Merriam-Webster, 2019.Web 20 Nov. 2019. 

Google Images licensed for reuse -images courtesy of buzzfeed

Do we have to be Mean to protect ourselves?

Throughout the novel Mean by Myriam Gurba, Gurba shares very revealing experiences from her childhood. The most traumatic of her experiences which caught our attention was being raped her freshman year of college.

As many of us know sexual assault is seen and heard far too often in our world today. For many, sexual assault can be one of the hardest to recover from because it takes such an emotional toll on women’s bodies. I know this because I myself am a victim of sexual assault, and it took a lot to recover including therapy, support, and a lot of time. As hard as it is for me to admit this to all of my peers, I just told about 20 individuals, Myriam Gurba wrote a book about it and told millions. Myriam Gurba felt that being mean was the best way to protect herself, she felt as if it created a protective screen. Unfortunately, the art of being mean wasn’t able to protect her from rape. Gurba said “We act mean to defend ourselves from boredom and from those who would chop off our breasts. We act mean to defend our clubs and institutions. We act mean because we like to laugh. Being mean to boys is fun and a second-wave feminist duty. Being rude to men who deserve it is a holy mission. Sisterhood is powerful, but being a bitch is more exhilarating. Being a bitch is spectacular.” (17) Gurba see’s being mean as the best way to defend herself, she experienced so many harsh moments which lead her to feel that way. She found empowerment in being mean, giving her a step above.

One of the hardest things that can come from sexual assault is the after effects, how you feel after, reliving it, wondering if you had gone somewhere else that night if it wouldn’t have happened. PTSD is common with the effects of how women and men can feel after rape. Gurba said “When you have PTSD, things repeat themselves over and over and over” (116) and she’s right. So many women, including myself, re-live the night it happened over and over and over again. The PTSD women feel from the event can be the hardest to overcome and can last years. The thoughts in their head repeat over and over again, “should I have fought harder,” “should I have been mean,” “should I have cried louder for help.” These are thoughts the victims are having every day, and it is heart breaking that so many have to relive the event.

We see sexual harassment every day in so many forms, I’m sure most Cortland girls alone that go out to the bars have experienced men grabbing their waists just to get around them, all of which is very unnecessary. Sexual assaults happen all over college campuses every year, and at least 50% of the time victims of sexual assault on college campuses involve alcohol which makes it even harder for women to fight back. So many women in today’s society are afraid to declare rape because they are afraid they will be accused of lying, in fact 63% of rapes aren’t reported. To make matters worse, as of January 1stin New York State women who were drunk when they were raped are not allowed to report the rape incident. This has enraged many, and rightly so many are trying to overturn the bill. 

Myriam Gurba is one of millions who have been sexually assaulted, although she took her incident and used it to tell a story, opening up to everyone. She shows everyone how she doesn’t have to hide. Reading Myriam’s story, you can feel her sense of empowerment and how she took such negative events in her life and turned them into such an inspirational story for so many men and women to read.


  1. Do you know anyone that has been a victim of any form of sexual assault? If so, how did it impact them?
  2. Do you feel that sometimes you have to be mean to create a protective screen for yourself?

Works Cited:

Gurba, Myriam. Mean. Coffee House Press, 2017.

Just A Joke, or An Act of Revolution?

By Emma Fryer

 Myriam Gurba’s use of dark humor throughout her book, Mean, gives us clues as to what her personality was like as a child. The sarcastic tones and shocking language within her anecdotes imply that she was disobedient, precocious, and hilarious in the face of trauma and adversity, taking typically detrimental events and handling them in a unique way. The author also narrates her stories with the wisdom of an aged woman… despite having been quite young at the time of each of them. This emphasizes the way in which her current perspectives in life have changed the way she views her past, and makes otherwise basic tales much more interesting. These ideas are demonstrated in multiple instances throughout the book. Both factors work together to form an image of herself growing up as a young Chicana in a prejudiced world.

  One example of Gurba’s use of dark, intelligent humor is in the beginning of the book when she recalls her introduction to education. Her nursery school teachers assume that she can’t speak English because she is able to speak Spanish to them, the author having assumed that they understood both languages the way she had learned to. This results in the teachers attempting to teach her English despite her pre-existing ability to do so. However, instead of telling her teachers that she is fluent in both languages, she plays along out of pure amusement. This is revealed when she mocks her teachers efforts in front of her father at home. Gurba writes, “I pointed. In a didactic tone, I narrated, ‘This is a plate. This is a cup. This is a spoon. This is a fork.’” Once her father had understood the situation, he responded by saying to Gurba’s mother, “The nursery school ladies think Myriam can’t speak English so they’re trying to teach her! They’ve turned her into a parrot!” (5). This is one of the readers’ first opportunities to gain insight on Gurba’s childhood persona. We learn right away that she was a smart-ass kid who enjoyed mischief based upon her ability to out-smart and poke fun at her caucasian instructors. 

This scene also allows the author to stress the fact that such prejudice assumptions shouldn’t be made based upon surface qualities through her humor. Telling her story through the eyes of a witty child exposes how ridiculous prejudice is as a whole, revealing that even a little girl can recognize the problem. This is emphasized when Gurba says, “I didn’t know Mexicans were Mexicans” (5). The explanation behind her thought process during this situation is what helps us as readers understand her point. Pairing her hilarious reaction as a kid with a more mature viewpoint is a strategy that allows Gurba to emphasize how important it is to not let differences hold you back. 

Gurba’s comedic response to adversity takes stories that would otherwise be boring or sad and makes them hilarious. For instance, when she is invited over for dinner at her caucasian friend Emily’s home. The mother says, “Since you’re visiting, Mexican” in response to Gurba’s question as to what they would be eating (9). Instead of correcting the family or pretending to enjoy it when a terrible “Mexican casserole” and other unauthentic dishes are brought to the table, the author reacts in the most dramatic way possible. She says things like, “The brussel sprouts were a different story. I scooped one into my mouth and realized its flavor: eternal damnation,” and lets the food fall out of her mouth (10). Once again, Gurba chooses humor over anger or hurt in a situation that is wrong. This, much like the other example, says a lot about her as a young girl. Gurba didn’t care what people thought of her, something that she still believes. Her attitude pokes fun a prejudice once more, and solidifies the idea that you can turn any situation around to your own advantage if you learn to laugh sometimes.


  1. If you were Gurba, how do you think you would respond to your teachers trying to teach you a language that you already knew?
  2. Do you believe that Gurba’s comedic approach is effective in getting her points across? Why or why not?

Works Cited

Gurba, Myriam. Mean. Coffee House Press, 2017.