Friday, January 26, 2007

I'll Go to Hell (Annotation G1-3/Goddard)

On the river friendship and adventure are nearly synonymous with Huckleberry Finn and Jim. A wide array of plot points, social commentary and downright old fashioned American adventure lace the pages of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn; however, in discussion of friendship and love chapters 16 and 31 are the richest.
“’Good-bye, sir,’ says I, ‘I won’t let no runaway niggers get by me if I can help it.” (Twain 101) Huck tells runaway slave hunters while floating on the river toward Cairo, toward freedom. Of course Huck has withheld information of Jim who at this instance is on the raft some distance away from the conflict, and indeed a safe distance.
The relationship between Huck and Jim through the end of chapter 15 is established as camaraderie of two runaways. Both are running from the establishment, Jim from slavery and Huck from his Pap and the ol’ widow. The scene: the Mississippi Valley; the time: forty to fifty years ago (the original publication date being 1884). The social implications are many even in 1884 with slavery still very fresh in the minds of people.
Huck has runaway from his Pap, and indeed from a sum of money, conversely Jim is worth eight hundred dollars down river. In an essence, Huck is an unwanted child, and Jim is not a human being, he is property. Each is looking for freedom, Jim from slavery and Huck from the imprisonment of his Pap, and worse still, the training of the widow and the judge. Unlikely stow-aways the sum of their situation and friendship is the one event in chapter 16.
“It hadn’t ever come home to me before, what this thing that I was doing. I tried to make out to myself to myself that I warn’t to blame, because I didn’t run Jim off from his rightful owner;…’But you knowed he was running for his freedom, and you could have paddled ashore and told somebody’” (Twain 97) This Huck’s inner dialogue was echoed by Jim who spoke of nothing but his freedom, and the shinny hope of Cairo. “Every time he danced around and says, ’Dah’s Cairo!’ it went through me like a shot and I thought if it was Cairo I reckoned I would die of miserableness. “ (Twain 97) plenty of conflict which makes the change of character exciting. They are forging ahead on the river which is dangerous enough, and they both stand punishment or reward if caught. Huck knows letting Jim go would be wrong, and becomes determined to turn him in. Only moments later when Huck is separated from Jim alone in the canoe and confronted two men in a skiff with guns he can bring himself to it. Not answering prompt the men finally drag it out him that there is another man on the raft behind them. Black or White? Again he is unable to answer prompt. Finally, after a challenge from the men with guns Huck returns the challenge to them to go see “pap”.
As Huck leads them to think that pap on the raft is sick, they jump to the conclusion of small pox. Huck is able to garner sympathy instead of challenge and not only gets away from the men but is able to accept help in the form of money as well.
“I’d see him standing my watch on top of his’n, stead of calling me, so I could go on sleeping; and see him how glad he was when I come back out of the fog; and when I come to him again in the swamp; and such-like times; and would always call me honey, and pet me, and do everything he could think of for me…” (Twain 235) Despite the obvious age difference between Jim and Huck, Jim being old enough to be a father to Huck the two have a more equal friendship. This relationship is comfortable to Huck, Jim treating him in a tender sort of way calling him ‘honey’ which he does throughout the book. The protection and company of a good friend is something that Huck lacks in all other adults in his life: Pap, the widow and Judge Thatcher. As Huck realizes the depth of his friendship with Jim, he’s already decided to write a note to Miss Watson to tell her when her runaway slave can be found. “I felt good and all washed clean of sin for the first time I had ever felt so in my life, and I knowed I could pray. But I didn’t do it straight off, but laid the paper down and set there thinking- thinking how good it was all this happened so, and how near I come to being lost and going to hell.” (Twain 234-235) How simple it seems to have the ability to pray and find the redemption of doing the right thing Huck has abided by law. Huck has told Miss Watson the whereabouts of her property and has saved his own soul from hell. However, this young man knows the right thing to do isn’t what he thinks is right. “I was trembling, because I’d got to decide, forever, betwixt two things, and I knowed it. I studied a minute, sort of holding my breath, and then I says to myself:
‘All right, then, I’ll go to hell’ –and tore it up” (Twain 235)

Twain, Mark. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. New York. Penguin Books, 1986

Monday, January 22, 2007

Bondage in Charles Johnson’s Middle Passage (Annotation G1-2/Goddard)

Charles Johnson’s Middle Passage inspires a spirit of high adventure early on, and creates a tragic depiction of sea life throughout. Set in 1830 he paints the horrors and perilous dementia which is bound to board any ship on long voyages. This historically set novel is loaded with fact as well, even its title implies: the middle passage was the end of the trade route between Africa to the new world. Ships would leave the Americas loaded with rum, sugar or any number of raw materials then travel to Europe for delivery, then to African ports to pick up human cargo, lastly taking the middle passage back to the Americas. The middle passage being the most precarious as supplies dwindled day after day creating an environment right for scurvy, dysentery and mutiny. The added danger during this middle passage is simply a cargo hold filled with human beings and even in 1830 after the United States and England made human exportation illegal, no ship was specifically designed to human cargo. Using this historical setting aboard the Republic Johnson weaves a multi-tiered examination of human bondage, on every page, and every conceivable combination.
“Man is the problem, Mr. Calhoun.” (Johnson 96) Ebenezer Falcon, the captain of the Republic tells Rutherford Calhoun the narrator. The depths of both Falcon and Calhoun are their similarities, each aboard the Republic for reasons of bondage. Obviously, during the passage back to The Americas a group of Allmuseri people are bound, but the more insidious bondage lies with the captain and narrator. Bound to the ship the captain explains “Every Plank and piece of canvas on the Republic, and any cargo she’s carrying… belongs to the three blokes who outfitted her in New Orleans and pay our wages” (Johnson 147) His servitude to the ship and her share holders is voluntary. As the return to New Orleans becomes nearly impossible when mutiny ensues and the Allmuseri take control of the Republic, Calhoun realizes the relationship clearly: “but was Ebenezer Falcon telling me that he, at bottom, was no freer than the Africans?” (Johnson 147) Falcon’s bondage goes much deeper, as deep as the past itself: “Once home, we return their boat to them. Anger, we say, is like the blade of a sword. Very difficult to hold for long without harming oneself.” (Johnson 119)
As for Calhoun, a freed slave from Illinois, it wouldn’t make sense to be on a slave ship. His involvement is not as voluntary as his Captain’s. Freed in 1829 Rutherford Calhoun flees to New Orleans where he starts his “free” life. Like Captain Falcon, Calhoun tries to contend with his past, his brother Jackson, the Reverend Peleg and the absence of his father, who were all in circumstances of slavery in Illinois. The escape from his past, as such leads him into more trouble in New Orleans. Entry, the first on June 14, 1830, Calhoun professes the leap from one bondage to another. “Of all things that drive men to sea, the most common disaster, I’ve come to learn, is women.” (Johnson 1) More than his past, and his potential present a blackmail marriage to the Boston school teacher Isadora Bailey, Calhoun’s creditors force him to sea. “’You know that li’l boardinghouse for cullud folks run by Mrs. Dupree? I own it. Fact is, I own her, and she tells me you’re three months behind in yo’ rent. And that li’l moneylender Fenton-you know him? I own him too.’” Enter Papa Zeringue, underground lord of New Orleans. Financially speaking, all those who Calhoun owes, owe Papa. Isadora strikes a bargain with Papa, she pays Calhoun’s debts and Papa arranges for her marriage to Calhoun. After a meeting with Papa, Calhoun takes to the bar “after the gin, five pitchers of beer emptied before me; the sailors thinned out, but still I sat, knowing that each hour brought me closer to the bondage of wedlock.” (Johnson 19) In direct action Calhoun steals papers from a sailor and stows away on the Republic.
In Middle Passage only Captain Falcon finds a means of release from bondage. “We heard the shot like the crack of doom on Judgment day… Whose ringed hand, his right, was tight on the trigger of a Philadelphia derringer that had blasted away half his head.” (Johnson 151) As stories of mutiny inevitable go, once the captain dies the perils of the sea become more impressive. Without the captain, the Republic stays the course set by the Africans, and the disease and hardship set in. Calhoun, still mired in his personal bondage, and one set upon him by the mutinying shipmates, comes to the same conclusion as Falcon but does not see it as freedom: “I was dying, no doubt about that, and I did not care for myself anymore, only that my mates should survive.” (Johnson 181) He does not die, perhaps it was all in his attitude, putting his mates before himself, if he had put himself first, he would not have lived to write in the ship’s log. Bondage yes, but after survival and rescue, Calhoun embraces life even with bondage.

Johnson, Charles. Middle Passage. New York: Plume, 1990

Saturday, January 6, 2007

The Cheeseburger Incident

1. The Draperies
“Cheeseburger,” initially. Then again, louder; “Cheeseburger, cheeeeeeeseburger!” As Thomas rolled over, opened his eyes, widely then squinting, moving them from side to side in a struggle of recognition. “Cheeseburger, cheeseburger, cheeseburger!” The call came again from down the hall.
“Someone gives that kid a cheeseburger,” he whispered sitting up, letting the rattan furniture creak under the shifting of his weight. He breathed deep; the I’m at home deep breath. Somewhere down the hall where the kid was screaming the desire for a cheeseburger over and over again in crescendo, he suddenly heard the under current of distant jazz. A recording of Dexter Gordon and better sounding than if live, in all likelihood. Re-mastered, had to be, no sound like that on a forty year old record, no way. It climaxed out with a chorus of “cheeseburger” and a version of Fly me to the moon, one he had never heard before chimed in. At once, it had to be of the same vintage, and sounding better than ever, and the voice of Astrud Gilberto, who fabled as a wonderful Brazilian singer, was rumored not to speak English very well. Didn’t hurt record sales any, and in this new age of computers, and enhancement, she was still floating around rising appearances in all sorts of venues. And this venue, Emma’s apartment, which as close as Thomas could tell was as good as any.
Dressing, all the more slowly and stretching out the knots of sleep he stood arching his back, and listening to the cracking. Not enough, he thought after the first attempt, and he arched again. Recent weeks had been kinder to him than to his back. He inhaled deeply, yes home it was, dampness, and dust and an insidious hint of mold, there were termites, if not still there and the smells of pine sol from a neighboring apartment. He left the room of last night’s residence and moved down the hall to the width of the apartment. He hadn’t seen the rest of the place the night before, but had been in these types of places all his youth. He had stayed the night in the office, which accounts for the rattan sofa, and the office being right by the apartment’s front door.
All matters of dust balls, dust bunnies, and ghost droppings lined the corners of the hall. The path most appropriately taken down the center of the dim passage way was well worn, and shiningly clean from traffic. The entire girth of it may have been the same if it was in fact possible to walk right along the walls. The walls, darkly painted or aged to be so where fanatically filled with the last twenty years. This he knew. Thomas took his time moving from picture frame to picture frame to discover what each one was. Art, some of them, and small sized, perhaps meant all the while for such a space, and others were photographs, and of all the characters in them he recognized only one. The hallway opened up a little, at least optically as he neared the brighter potion of the apartment when all at once under an open transom and door came all at once the loudest “CHEESEBURGER” of them all on the wings of a parrot.
“What the…”
“Thomas, jeez, I’m sorry,” Emma leapt up, panic stricken. “I didn’t hear you get up, I’d’ve put him away.”
“Did he think I was a cheeseburger?”
“Well, no, I shooed him off the draperies.”
“You’ll find out, jeez, come sit down, coffee?” Emma started for the kitchen before the reply, which was a rising of the eyebrows and a nodding of the head. “Jasper will calm down I promise,” she said from the kitchen.
“Cheeseburger, cheeeeeeseburger.” Jasper retorted.
“Here, I hope you take it black.”
“Um, yeah,” Thomas lifted the cup from her hands.
“The cream’s sour and I can’t reach the sugar bowl.” And on cue he looked up past her nest of black and grey hair to the ceiling. They were every bit as dimly painted as the hall, only the color was lighter, perhaps the light was lighter. “I prefer it black too.”
“I can offer you tea too,” she sounded distracted, had she always been like that?
“No, coffee’s fine.”
One screech was followed by another. “Dirty birdie, dirty birdie, dirty birdie,” Jasper cried humping a fold in the draperies. Followed by “Get off those draperies Jasper, you filthy beast.” As she chased him away Thomas sipped the coffee, Astrud Gilberto had silently stopped and a familiar recording of My Funny Valentine came through the speakers. Not altogether outlandish, Thomas laughed at the combination.

2. A collection of Shoeboxes

Once Emma settled down, Jasper followed suit. He looked at the draperies with a certain longing and must have decided to forgo the demands of cheeseburgers. Not a dumb animal after all, anyone with some wits prefers love over cholesterol. It was obvious once she settled into her chair and glared at the bird she would probably be lost without him, although better rested and proud of immaculately clean draperies. Thomas looked her over the rim of the cup. She was not the girl he had met. Certainly not, this was a woman, after all. “You look great,” he said.
“You said that last night.”
“But I mean it today,” and he did. She couldn’t take a complement. “It’s been so long, you look great.”
“Thanksgiving, 1986.”
“It’s been a long time.”
“I have all your letters.”
“Yeah? You kept them?”
“Incidentally, I have a collection of shoeboxes,” she relaxed a little. “And now, here you are.”

“May I see them?”