Literature is a reflection of life, so, sometimes, by understanding good literature, it is possible to understand one's self and one's community better. This paper will discuss how literature reflects on communities and how as individuals we affect our society. It will compare the readings "Shiloh" by Bobbie Ann Mason, "The Lesson" by Toni Cade Bambara, and "Golden Retrievals" by Mark Doty, and give examples on how these works correlate to society nowadays.
In "Shiloh," the setting is rural suburbia. Norma Jean Moffitt is the wife of Leroy who is a truck driver. He was recently in an accident and was left unable to drive a truck anymore on the road, so he is homebound now with his wife on a daily basis. His wife, Norma Jean, seems to have problems with this, because she was before usually home by herself and had her own routine. Norma Jean tries to get Leroy back to work, with her mother Mabel's help, but Leroy seems set on trying to build a new life at home, so he can be closer to his wife.
Norma Jean, meanwhile, has become very concerned with making herself look good, and is lifting weights to improve her self-image. She has a regular job at the local drugstore, where she seems to enjoy discussing cosmetics, and explaining them to her husband. Leroy seems to be happier with his wife then she is with him. He tries very hard to relate to Norma Jean, but all his trying only makes Norma Jean angry. Norma Jean and Leroy do not share the same idea about where their marriage is going. When Norma Jean comes home sometimes, she seems to be startled that Leroy is there. (DiYanni, R. 2007) It is as if Norma Jean forgets that her husband is home, or she does not really want him to be there.
Leroy has always wanted to build his wife a home. Now that he is home all the time he feels this would be the perfect time to do so. When he speaks to Norma Jean about this she is never excited about it, or always has an excuse of why he shouldn't build a house. The house may represent some type of permanent commitment to Norma Jean that she doesn't want to accept. She may be trying to give him signs that she is not happy and wants out of the marriage. That's why she lifts weights, talks about cosmetics and her job. She discusses everything but their marriage or the past loss of their son. There doesn't seem to be a close emotional connection between the couple.
As time goes on the Leroy starts to see all the time his wife spends with her mother. Norma Jean's mother seems to be very critical of her, always making comments regarding laundry or the way something looks. Perhaps Norma Jean carries around a lot of guilt about the death of her son and the expectations her mother has of her. Perhaps Norma Jean would benefit from sharing her feelings with her mother and her husband. She married Leroy at a young age and maybe she did not have enough time to find herself and develop into a woman she was proud of. Even as an adult Norma Jean hid the fact that she smoked cigarettes from her mother and then she got caught. Norma Jean is very upset that her mother caught her. Mabel is a big part of this story because of her influence on Norma Jean, towards whom she is very critical. Mabel is a difficult person, and, like Norma Jean, many daughters are always trying to please their mothers, at times at their own emotional expense.
For some reason, Mabel always wanted to go to Shiloh. Perhaps, it was something or someone that was missing in her life that made this place so important. The impression is that Mabel thought Shiloh would fix whatever was wrong with Norma Jean's marriage.
In the end Norma Jean agrees to go with Leroy to Shiloh. When they arrive they look around, have lunch, and that is when Norma Jean has the opportunity to tell Leroy she is leaving him. Perhaps she thinks that is her only way out, but, as she speaks to him, Leroy responds: "I won't let you leave me," (DiYanni, R. 2007). That is likely when Norma Jean decides she will never get away from Leroy, or her mother, or the life she is trying to forget. So she walks over to a cliff, looks back one more time, and waves, as if to say "good-bye," and jumps.
The story centers on a couple that lives a very simple life, in a small town, and Norma Jean is not happy and wants a different life. Leroy never understood his wife, and does not see the signs of depression and despair she carries around. "Shiloh" could represent a woman of today, unhappy in her marriage with a case of depression, of which everyone around her has missed the signs. Nowadays people walk around with a lot of guilt or baggage they don't how to get rid of.
"The Lesson" takes place in the projects, where the children are poor and do not have much economically to look forward too. Then, an educated black woman, by the name of Miss Moore, moves into the neighborhood. She is educated and takes the time to try to educate others, even if they do not want to be educated. The children of the neighborhood do not care for her because she makes them try to learn and think about things educationally.
Miss Moore believes that she can help the children lead better lives through education. She tries to incorporate many subjects into one lesson: she goes on tangents about a microscope, or gives Sylvia the responsibility of calculating what ten percent tip is for a cab ride. Miss Moore wants the children to grow up with more advantages and awareness than their parents had. She hopes that if they grow up educated and aware, they will be better equipped to change the social inequalities of their society. She tries to make them aware of these social inequalities by taking them out of their comfortable places and transplanting them into another world, one more privileged than theirs. The children are, naturally, uncomfortable in this other world.
On one summer day, she takes a group of children on a little road trip, to learn about money and material things. She takes the children to the biggest toy store ever, FAO Schwarz. All the children wonder why they are there. Miss Moore first wants to see how they will react to the sight of the toy store. One of the girls asks immediately if they are allowed to steal things. The others are more hesitant, and do not know how to act in the store. They can not believe the prices on a boat they see, and the prices of other toys. The children automatically think this is a rich person's store.
Miss Moore encourages the children to think about the disparity between the toy store, its merchandise and the people who shop there vs. The children's own lives and families. The children can barely even imagine having enough money to purchase any of the items in the store. Even the proceeds from the cheapest toy could feed one of their families for a whole year. Miss Moore tries to get the children to see how unfair it is that while certain people live off pennies a day, others are spending thousands of dollars on simple toys; toys that will not last. Of course, this is still true in today's society. While the gap between rich and poor has narrowed, there is still a lot that is unfair. Even today, we are in the middle of a recession which was caused by very rich companies behaving very dangerously with their money. Those rich companies received a giant bailout from the government: 700 billion dollars; and, today, many of them are financially stable and doing business again. Meanwhile, working-class Americans have not received a bailout. The un-employment rate spiked to over ten percent at one point, millions of people lost their homes, and many children went hungry for a while. While it is not exactly the same as Sylvia's situation, this situation shows how even today there is a deep gap between the wealthy and everyone else.
On the way back home, Miss Moore questions the children about what they saw and what they thought. The one girl has a lot of anger and jealousy for what she can not have, while the others rationalize about how people could spend that kind of money on a toy. In their families, that one boat could feed all of them for a month. What Miss Moore is trying to teach them is that one can change their environment by education, and by working hard. Money can…