Monday, February 26, 2007

Some Short stories

Alexie's Assimilation showed how the prejudice in society could affect a marriage between the common American couple. Mary Lynn was feeling a case of boredom with her "white" husband. She felt it was safe. This is a result of the social stereotypes of the different races in a society. Mary Lynn feels that if she were to sleep with a man of different race that is looked down upon it would make some part of her life or her self more exciting. The fact that she likes that an Indian man has scars on his stomach shows that she is trying to fulfill her stereotype of an Indian man as being dangerous. This danger that Mary Lynn seeks is a false way of overcoming the problems with her and her marriage. Her problem being that she is bored. Her husband, Jeremiah, feels committed to marriage and not to Mary Lynn. This is also a result of the social pressures that is placed on marriage. Both Mary Lynn and Jeremiah are so afraid of breaking social conventions than just being happy whether with each other or on their own. They are so caught up on keeping a marriage and family together because society says that is what is most important. It leaves them no room to love each other as individuals until the very end of the story.
The short story, Pyramid, I found interesting. It had strong imagery and left me guessing what the story meant. It seems like a scholar is doing some research on ancient Mayan markings in a pyramid. However, the character that seems to be an archeologist spray paints words that you find in a subway station on the precious pyramid. He refers to this as his “work”, which gives it more meaning than just graffiti. He has a purpose that is not clear in the story, but it’s more than just a prank. He wants some theory of his to be proven which means this could be for other researches to look at and for the main character to observe their reactions. The story is humorous in a way, but strange because there is little explanation. The Glass Eye also had a dark humor to it. The character Folio seems to be a recluse that plays with his eye a lot and doesn’t get out much since he was so amazed to see a woman in a bikini. The glass eye he had before the new eye allowed him to see what he wanted. He wanted to see the woman as thin and attractive. Once the woman gave him a new eye and he tried it out he saw the woman as fat. It is unknown whether the new eye showed reality or if he was just a madman.
I felt sympathy for the character in I Know What You Did Last Summer. She struggled with her love of poetry and her own works. The setting was during the grunge era in music and she was on tour with very famous bands during that time. She was pressured to succeed with her poetry and with her desire to have a good summer. She finds that people don’t appreciate the art of poetry anymore or at least in the places she goes. She was placed in a “corner” near the bathroom to read her poetry and people were just yelling rude things at her. She notices the annoyance of young teens at the time and is bothered by their ignorance. She points out how the different classes dress how they think the lower class teens dress, but yet the lower class population doesn’t even dress that way because they would be seen as dangerous. She notices that poetry of her time has become cliché and stereotypical over her summer. This makes her shift her goals to making good burritos at a stand. She becomes bored with society, poetry, and even making burritos at the end. This shows the boredom with meeting the expectations that society pressures people to be and accept as what’s ‘in’ at the time.

I'm assuming you're all interested in what I thought...

I enjoyed all the fiction stories from Humor Me for their terrible sense of reality. Each story was grounded in an all too real social conflict. The threat of a failing marriage, the emptiness of untried potential and ambition, the fulfillment of pseudo-Oedipal desires, all pulsing under the surface with racial, sex-related, and class prejudices that make each character feel the pressure of their particular situation all the more. Nelson's Run is fascinating because of the conflict that never arrises. If the father had realized what his son was up to, you can easily imagine him flying off the handle and disowning Nelson or grinning broadly and giving Nelson a slap on the back. Deciding which reaction was more likely put the story in two lights after I read it.

Despite the "realness" of each piece, they tend to end in a rather happy ending or at least an ending that ties everything neatly into a knot of satisfaction. Nelson never has to deal with his father's discovery, Mary Lynn and Jerimiah forgive each other without really needing to confess, Art sets off in the direction of a new life with his memories in tow, and Juan gets the best deal out of all of them. You'd think he'd be engaged in constant self-conflict with the lie he is living with such a kind family and the betrayal he commits towards the family he left behind. However, Juan does exactly what everyone would proclaim to do in his situation. When watching a movie or reading a book and the character comes to these sort of crossroads where he can have considerable comfort with the sacrifice of shame or self-loathing, most audiences chide the character for his decision to behave honorably and go through hell to keep the esteem of the family still in Mexico. Juan does not disappoint the audience with yet another show of chivalry--he lives the double life to the fullest and supposedly lives "happily ever after."

Now, of course, there are few pieces that don't portray any sort of standard. Ray Gonzalez's 5 short fictions are all very symbolic. When taken at face value, they're all darkly humorous, but when looking deeper you get a meaning behind the madness--which is the case with most madness. Jalepeno Contest's events and outcome can be easily applied to any competitive situation, especially pointless ones that gain nothing but fleeting fame or glory.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Hurmor Me assignment

The humor in this anthology seemed to me to be a hard-won and toughened humor, the kind of humor that come out of ironic adversity and a will to make the best of things. My favorite is probably “Nelson’s Run”, just because it’s so well written and told from such an interesting perspective. I think it’s really interesting to look at a person through the lens of where they come from and what influence them when they were impressionable. Family is intrinsically tied up in race and heritage for the obvious reason that you family is where those identities come from. There is something to be said for genealogy when examining any individual.

I also really like “Godoy Lives” because it had the theme of recreation (and creepily enough, reanimation) and of gaining a new life entirely separate from the previous one. I liked that it combined one death with another life, creating a new family link in a way that isn’t explored in “Nelson’s Run”, a family of influence, a chosen family as opposed to the family you can’t help but have.

These stories didn’t have me laughing out loud, but humor did linger in a sense of tireless optimism, the kind of attitude that says “c’est la vie” when something bad happens, and allows people to get on better because of it.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Ambiguity and Rezervation

What is striking about Sherman Alexie's Assimilation is the subtle ambiguity as to the race of the main character Mary Lynn. She is identified as an "Indian" early on in the story, but with the overuse of the supposedly politically correct "Native American" distinction in a particularly American culture, one is almost immediately drawn to assume Mary Lynn's familial lineage stretches to India. The initial images and details of womanhood and sexual frustration, and all therein that is wrapped up in self-identity, quite easily overpower the references to Sitting Bull and Crow Fair, etc. Moreover, the common lay-reader would likely struggle with the term "Cour d'Alene" and perhaps at least recognizing the French roots, would likely miss the historical context of the French Jesuits and fur traders that engaged with early native peoples, notably the Huron, in the Upper Midwest Americas and Canada.
What is more, is that we dismiss the word "indigenous", when Mary describes her sought lover, as meaning someone born in India - indigenous to India, and from this we interpret either, first, that Mary Lynn is not a "full-blood" Indian, or that she has ethnically mixed parents. Also we may tend to think the name Mary Lynn as being quite American, fitting of choice for a family immigrating to America or for a first child born in America (despite the present trend of reviving ethnically-identifying names). It seems reasonable that, judging from the title and implied time period based on Mary's apparent age, that her parents would choose a name for her that would help with her ethnic acclamation, especially if we again infer that she is light-skinned because of her parents' different ethnicities. It is our American-cowboys-and-savages mindset that assumes that if Mary were a squaw her name would be something more like Mary Gentle Pheasant.
It is not until Mary explicitly begins talking about growing up on the "rez" and listening to powwow CD's that we realize, Oh she's that kind of Indian. However, we're still not sure, because we're immediately confronted with the image of the man she is vying for working in a local coffee shop. Now we've got ourselves thinking, first about sex, then whether or not this guy owns the shop, and sooner or later we're on to wondering about all the 711's in Montana, and why we're so racist. It is racist, but I've had hundreds of cups of coffee all over the U.S. and I've never seen a Native American behind the counter. Also, I've been to a lot of different counters all over the U.S. and I've seen, met, and personally know a fair number of Indian's and Pakistani's who work behind them. (Essentially, I am as racist as my previous experiences allow.)
The things is, all people learn about Sitting Bull in eighth grade history. A bunch of people have read Zane Grey and like his stories about the rugged west whether or not they understand the implications of manifest destiny on indigenous peoples. We also don't know how long it took her to find the first Indian man "she could find." I don't know how hard it is to find a Native American in Montana as compared to finding a person from the country of India. The location itself adds to the ambiguity. If the story was set in a major metropolitan city for instance, one can assume that it would have been harder to find a Native American than and Indian or someone you could confuse with an Indian as is common with generalities.
All in all, the story is meant to highlight the distinctions of race at certain intervals, it is not a glaring racial expose and not meant to be. It's a story of the struggle between love, sex, family and success set against a racial backdrop, and Alexie does well to keep the reader unsure, while focussing on the consequences and conflicts of, and inherit in, Mary Lynn's racial identity from the outset.

Reaction to Fiction Section of Humor Me

A short story must, in a limited amount of space, create a scene and characters with a past, present, and future. It inevitably has to leave some things out, details to be extrapolated by the reader. I think finding a balance between providing the reader enough specifics and letting them fill the gaps for themselves is a very hard thing to accomplish. That is why I paid particular attention to the shorter works by Ray Gonzalez. I especially liked his story ‘The Glass Eye”. “The Glass Eye” leaves many things unexplained. It presents us with a character, Folio, who has a glass eye but doesn’t explain anything about how he got it. When another character, a pretty girl in a yellow bikini, comes to his door and gives him another artificial eye, one that changes her appearance greatly, the reader is faced with many questions. I had to wonder, “Who is the girl in relation to Folio?”, “What is the magic of the new eye?”, “Which form is the girl’s true form?”, and “Why does Folio love the girl in her second form, when she is obese?” I think the great value of this story is that these questions are left explicitly unanswered. Gonzalez purposefully paints us a bizarre scene and then abandons us to interpret it as we will.

Overall, I found the content of the fiction section of Humor Me to be strange and surprisingly somber. The stories did not strike me as humorous at all. Rather many left me feeling puzzled about their strange plots and sad at the unjust order of the world they created. For example I was very troubled by Daniel Chacon’s story “Godoy Lives”. In it Juan, crosses the border pretending to be a man named Miguel Godoy but then when he encounters Godoy’s family he assumes the role of Godoy and abandons his old life and his family. It was very disturbing to think of a person actually doing what Juan does in this story, and it was all the more troubling because Chacon creates a realistic character in Juan, a man who simply chooses the easy way out, in the dilemma he is presented. I liked this story because it challenged my assumptions that Juan would make the morally righteous decision to tell the truth about his identity or return to his wife at some point in the story.

The entire book Humor Me also presents an interesting perspective since it is “an anthology of humor by writers of color”, so the issue of race pervades even the stories like the two I discussed, that are seemingly not racially charged.

Distance in marriage in Assimilation

Sherman Alexie’s Assimilation struck me as a very interesting take on the issue of multi-racial couples. Normally you think of the main issue in a multi-racial couple being external pressures from people not being accepting of a multi-racial union. In this story this is not the issues, however. In this story it seems that normal marital problems are complicated, both in the story, and in the minds of the characters, by the issue of race.
The main character describes the frustrations in her marriage. She is disinterested in the sex, despite the fact that her husband seems to be happy with it. She describes a scenario in the supermarket in which she becomes strongly attracted to a rather homely random woman. She also describes her frustration with her husbands need to be involved in everything he sees going on. She says that neither of them love each other and that her husband merely loves the marriage itself. All these issues are issues that could be present in a marriage without a race issue.
Race, however, adds another aspect to each of these matters. Her general disinterest in sex within her marriage turns into a desire to have sex with an Indian man. Though she first realized attraction outside of her marriage to a white woman, she decides that it is not a general desire for infidelity, but a desire to have sex with an Indian man. She explains that white men were always safe and dependable in her mind, so she was always with white men. An Indian man, then, is dangerous and exciting. She sees her husband’s need to get involved in everything as a result of his rage that she had seen “in other white men when their wishes and desires were ignored”. At the end of the story the suicide of a woman makes both characters realize that they want to be together. Despite their differences in experience of life and the fact that they have grown apart over the years, they, “loved each other across the distance”.

oh, nelson.

The collection of short stories in Humor Me are drenched in irony and a mordant humor about race and ethnicity as seen through an American viewpoint. One of the most prominent example of this irony is in Peter Bacho's "Nelson's Run" - which, in addition to the slightly bigoted view (completely overexaggerated) shown within the first prologue, shows mainly sexual stereotypes of the Filipino-American persona. The lecturer, Dr. Bulaklak (from the Tagalog word for "to bloom") illustrates the history of the Dona of Samar (a white woman)'s personality cult, including events such as an upswing in a desire for a "whiter, brighter" Philippines and the need for role models culled from the colonizing power. Donny Osmond is a gift to the small island of Leyte. The Filipinos (in this parallel world) have an overwhelming desire to acquire US citizenship and start voting Republican, becoming consumers in the US capitalist system and honor the Catholic roots of their culture through "vote for the prettiest martyr" beauty pagents of transgendered individuals. This history extends to an anecdote about the 1992 election, reports of her "blessing" the campaign of Bing Bong Big by "playing his flute". This works against her image as a character akin to the Virgin Mary and yet endears her even more greatly to the people, who not only endorse Bing Bong, who not only protect her "sacred virginity", but upon prompting from Bing Bong, started sucking, fondling and licking each other. The prologue abruptly ends here and picks up with a bizarre postscript line: Dr. Bulaklak is looking to marry a woman - or at least sleep with one and offers his citizenship in the US as a prize for whomever will take it.
The second prologue of "Nelson's Run" is entitled "an overworked axiom - a tree and its falling fruit" - which serves as both foreshadowing (as Nelson takes after his father with his rapid exchange of female companions) and an ironic tone - an illustration of his moral decay as it comes. The mother attempts to shield Nelson from the tree itself and upon its discovery, much like the Biblical Adam, he cannot return to the unaware state of the Garden of Eden. He has been exposed to the truth: his father is the man in the Polaroid picture. The father that had been stashed in a drawer, never to be found, has been revealed and exposed as a factor to shape the rest of Nelson's life.
At first, Nelson's father is portrayed as a rich man, a real estate shark who trades female companion for female companion, asking Nelson to refer to all of them as "Mom" and asking that he not become attached to them. Upon questioning, Nelson's father explains that, as a rich white man, it is his duty to practice Social Darwinism and eliminate the weak link - the women - and continue onward, looking for ways to spread his seed. He mentions racial superiority against all groups, especially the Chinaman. Women "resent their place" (under the men) and refuse to adhere to their niche. Ergo, this oppression he does of them is perfectly alright and justified.
The grand irony of the whole piece occurs when Nelson's father brings home a islander and proclaims her perfection as the demure, exotic type. By using Thomas Jefferson as example, suddenly, this misogynistic and racist outlook is fine! This, I suppose, seems to be "humorous" in some way, at least picking on Jefferson and comparing his political and social policy to his personal life. There is no such comparison with Nelson's father. The events that drive Nelson to having sex with his "Mom" are humorous in an ironic sort of way.
Sylvia, Nelson's "mom", is using Nelson's dad to stay in the country. She is being used as a status symbol. Is it any surprise, then, when, much like the Philippines, she rises up and stabs her oppressor with a nail file? Eventually, much like the country she represents, she is forgotten in favor of a newer, younger prospect by Nelson.

(Really, I enjoyed this story, it was just... bizarre... borderline incestual... and historical enough for me to wince. After uncovering some of the clever allegorical usages and references, this story and I were square. The others within the collections felt a great deal like this, too.)
I think the thing that struck me the most while reading these short stories was the fact that almost every single one of these stories was humorous, yes, but humorous in a different way than seeing Ernest Goes to Jail or something as relatively ridiculous. This humor was a more serious, truthful look at the real life injustice and biases that exist in our world. In some of the stories the inequalities and negativity are triumphed over, but in others, like “Nelson’s Run” by Peter Bacho, we are left with this feeling that racial disproportion will continue in our world for years to come, tracing through the veins of the sons and daughters of the ignorant.
And I was also wondering how much more humorous these stories would have been if I had ever been in situations like that. For example, I found Daniel Chacon’s “Godoy Lives” to be my favorite of the stories. I thought it was hilarious. But I wonder if I had ever been in a situation similar, if I had ever tried to illegally cross the border, if I would have found the situation to be ten times more hilarious. And if I also would have understood the emotions the main character encounters as he leaves his life in Mexico behind and creates a new one in America.
I think these stories are great ways to approach the racial discrimination that still exists in the world today. I think the ability to laugh at the past and the crappy things that happen to you in your life is the best way to keep moving on and getting ahead of the rest of the fools in the world. But I also appreciate how although there is laughing and there is humor, there is still this sense of empowerment, this sense that “although I may get kicked and although as a minority I sometimes get dealt a crappy hand, I am not going to let it stop me.”
I think the most interesting part of delving into Humor Me - an anthology of humor by writers of color was assimilating the title of the anthology, and therefore my expectations of the text, with the actual writings presented. My preconceived notions of humor led me to anticipate a lightly entertaining and perhaps slightly satirical collection of stories spanning the ethnographic chart; however, the stories were actually quite miserably depressing sometimes, to the level where they rose up and became humorous once again.

For example, in the story “Assimilation,” an American Indian woman desires nothing but to sleep with an Indian man - any Indian man. She feels incomplete without achieving this task, which is disturbing on many levels: Does she really need a man to complete her? Is it necessary to sleep with someone of your own race to be whole? Does race really matter all that much? Still, while this internal dilemma forces a sort of grievance for humanity, there is a bold humor in the way Mary Lynn performs her “seduction,” and in the banal conversation she and her husband share afterwards. There is a sort of humor found only in misery.

The most disturbing story seemed to me to be “Godoy Lives,” the tale of an illegal immigrant assimilating himself into the United States. While I don’t disapprove of his tactics of entering America (I think if we had more lax immigration laws we wouldn’t have to worry about such circumstances) I find the way he effortlessly forgets his home and family and renews himself quite disconcerting. Is it really that simple to forget everything that means home and love? The story makes it seem as if it is, and I’m afraid it may be correct. Yet there is a sort of gloomy amusement found in this forgetfulness - again, a glimpse at the dark humor that penetrates throughout this anthology.


After reading many of these stories i've been lead to believe that humor me is more of the idea that one humor the writer as he articulates his feelings on society, more than anything having to do with comedy. I felt that some of the stories had a comic edge to them but what I felt linked all the stories together was varying social commentaries. Take for example the first and second stories, Alexie's assimilation and Nelson's Run which both dealt, as did many of the stories, with race issues and issues of loyalty.

For me personally the most fascinating story was Nelson's run. The idea of the young boy being so un emotionally involved with his surroundings and his lack of loyality to his family made me wonder how he could have gotten to that point. The real kicker for came at the end when his lover from Manilla stabs his father and pleads with him to help her find a lawyer and he wonders to himself about what his date will be like. It was so cold. I had a hard time relating to a reaction like that and because of that, found it all the more interesting.

The second familial story that I found interesting as well as disturbing was the story about the brother and the jalapeños, called the Jalapeno Contest by Ray Gonzalez. I just couldn't wrap my head around the idea that these guys were so desperate to compete against eachother that they would make themselves almost sick to win and watch eachother. I couldn't help but wonder as I read it what would have driven them to treat each other like this. What was their motivation, aside from winning? It killed me.

Internal Angst leads to External Change

In Alexie’s Assimilation, the main character seemed to feel trapped in her life and seeking dramatic change. She seemed frantic for change to happen immediately, and took drastic steps to influence it. She did this haphazardly, not completely analyzing the reasoning behind her actions. She longed to sleep with an Indian man, and that was all that she knew. She was not concerned of anything other than this, this would solve her aching desires because it was what she did not have. She had married a man who was white, and this was what she thought may be the root of her issue.
But when she found an Indian man, and attempted to use him as a catalyst, she was unimpressed and unchanged. She told herself that she hated him like she hated her husband. She found no solace from him, until she was with her husband and then she dreamt of him in a different light. The Indian man was sacred when she was not with him because he was not white and not her husband. He was nothing to her except a tangible representation of the ideal conception of what could be different in her life. It was not until the couple were stopped on the bridge and the woman was left alone without her husband that she expressed love for him. This love was partially based on familiarity and partially on respect. I believe that this experience did not cause her to change, but rather to become aware of the internal conflict that fueled her angst if only for a moment. She ended up in the same place that the story began, married to her very white and familiar husband. But she found comfort in that rather than confinement.
This story is very similar to Serros’ I Know What You Did Last Summer. The main character in this book also began the story seeking change. Her expectations were also high in regard to the experience that she was seeking. Her experience happen slower and more gradually than the woman in the previously discussed story, but similar trends are very apparent. She slowly realized that she was unfulfilled and disappointed and that she was not getting what she had expected. The girl grew weary quickly of the entire trip and sought more change. In the end she too ended up where she had begun. She was still searching and expecting her inner angst to be solved by external change.


“Assimilation” by Sherman Alexie tells the story of an Indian woman exploring the subject of race within her marriage to a white man. She loves her husband but still lusts over the color he doesn’t have and she fantasizes of sleeping with an Indian man. She and her husband meet for dinner and comfortably bicker like an old couple that know each other far too well to be really angry.

This piece really explores the idea of race in a very-touchy way: because the discussion of race itself is touchy. Acknowledging race makes it an issue and even if a difference or handicap is widely accepted, it is still dragging it through the mud by pointing it out. This story argues that race is silly but real and that there are two ways a ball can role. Part of this story seems to be Mary Lynn trying to figure out if she really loves Jeremiah or loves him because he is white. Sleeping with the Indian man seems to have only affirmed her belief that she loves Jeremiah beyond his skin color and beyond even her own.

The decisions Mary Lynn makes are her attempt to go for the things she feels are correct, not necessarily the ones she wants. Just as she smokes the herbal cigarettes even though she hates them, and married a white man but fantasizes over men within her own race. She fills the role as an open-minded individual when her real deep inner longings have been repressed so long she has taken on these views as if they were her own. After so many years of playing her role, she seems to really break down and doesn’t necessarily know what she wants. She feels strangely attracted to the “ugly woman” in the grocery though she has never swung that way, and she wishes to sleep with any Indian man she can rope in only because he is Indian.

At the end of the story, the bridge they are driving across is stopped dead for a suicidal woman jumping off the bridge. Jeremiah got out to see why it was stopped and while he is gone Mary Lynn believes he must have died. When she thinks it is all over, what and whom she thought about are the closest to her heart. For Mary Lynn lust may be racial, transcends all colors and differences. All through this she really thinks about how much she truly loves him and after the woman jumps to her death screaming a man’s name, Jeremiah realizes he will never leave his wife.

a curious sort of humor.

I’m intrigued by the description of this collection as a “humor anthology,” because while I was reading it I didn’t find it all that humorous. I understand the concept of black comedy, and I did think that several stories were clever and had funny moments, but I don’t think that any of the pieces were written solely to amuse the reader. I’m not complaining, but I am confessing that when I see a book marked as a humor anthology I expect something much different from what I found in Humor Me.

For example, Sherman Alexie’s piece "Assimilation" does have some funny moments: the idea of a woman walking up to the first Native American man she sees and demanding sex, no matter how unattractive he is, the description of the children, and Mary Lynn and Jeremiah’s banter outside the restaurant are all amusing. But they are tempered by graver issues: Mary Lynn longs t have an affair even though she does not seem traditionally upset with her marriage, save for the fact that it is with a white man, her Indian-looking children are favored by other members of the family over her white-looking children, and Mary Lynn and Jeremiah reveal the tension in their relationship with their sharp conversation. The ending is undeniably serious; stories identified as humorous rarely end in suicide. I’m unsure if the reader is meant to be sympathetic to Mary Lynn; she’s done well for herself but is still obsessed with the problems that are caused (sometimes imaginarily, it seems) by her race.

Other stories are similarly inconsistent between humor and gravity. Often, it seems, the bare-bones plot seems funny, but the manner in which it’s fleshed out makes the story darker. Daddy in "Nelson’s Run" is almost a personification of exploitative capitalism, too out-there to be believed with his steady stream of Moms and admiring idolization of Ayn Rand. His all-American son falling into a semi-Oedipal relationship with his father’s first "colored" paramour is expected from her first appearance. But the ending, where he coldly abandons her to prison while he begins to adopt his father’s own ruthless character, was not something I found funny at all. Likewise with "Godoy Lives": a man adopts a dead man’s identity to sneak into the US and is adopted in turn by the dead man’s family, but he eventually loses his previous identity and forgets his own family. "Birthmates" is more character-driven, with the humor lying in the personality of the mild, overcautious Arthur Woo, but the descriptions of his former life with his ex-wife are truly saddening. I enjoyed the reading, but I’m interested in exploring how these stories were judged to be humorous pieces, when they seem to be much deeper. Possibly this is connected to the idea of using humor as a defense mechanism against the constant tragedies in life - I’d like to see if this is a theme with the other pieces in the book.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Finding Common Ground When Crossing Racial Lines

In each of these short stories there seems to be a loss for one or more of the characters when racial borders are approached and breached. For the married couple is "Assimilation" each must give up something in order to contribute to a workable marriage. Mary Lyn gives up her heritage and her racial identity in order to escape the reservation and have what she considers a successful life. Jeremiah must give up the image of a perfect suburban white family in his commitment to his interracial marriage. To cope against a society that seems to shun them they both have to put up with prejudice from both sides. In "Nelson's Run", Nelson doesn't necessarily lose something so much as his perspective of his life, his family, and how he fits into the world is altered. His pseudo-reality of his 'family' with his father comes crashing down around him once he violates the role of 'Mom' that Sylvia fills and assumes the role of his father in his father's own bed. As well, Juan of "Godoy Lives" loses his former life when he arrives in America and leaves his family behind even as he tries to support them. He loses his perception of them. But in each of the stories, as the characters face the question of race and their relationship to these 'others' the characters also gain something invaluable despite their loss.
In "Assimilation", Jeremiah and Mary Lyn gain a respect for each other and a bond that grows from facing the dilemmas of prejudice together. Mary Lyn cheats on Jeremiah not because she truly hates him but because she is seeking out what and who she is. Jeremiah doesn't resent Mary Lyn for the trouble marrying her has caused him but resents society's labels and prejudices that force them into such ridiculous situations as being denied service at restaurants or even questioning which of their children are most loved by their parents. Mary Lyn and Jeremiah don't place these restrictions and labels and prejudices upon their family or against each other but it is rather society that has created these horrid boundaries of 'race' that seem to separate people. In the very end, Jeremiah and Mary Lyn demonstrate how they reject these conventions and find their own peace together by 'loving across the distance'. Despite the difference in their cultures and the troubles they face from society's impressions of race they are able to cross those boundaries and come to find a common ground in love and marriage. They are both humans and face the same doubts and troubles together and in similar manners.
In "Nelson's Run", it is when Nelson is confronted by his father's foray into the unknown world of 'other races' that Nelson is able to discover himself and his true relationship with his father. He finds he does not truly respect the man he calls 'Dad' as he is not in the least unwilling to sleep with his father's woman except to only momentarily wonder if he should feel guilty for violating his father's bed. It is society that has introduced such a notion in Nelson that would forbid him from his father's lover rather then respect. But this sudden encounter with the strange and exotic brings Nelson into adulthood and it is from this experience that he discovers his true nature; he is just like his father. He even becomes his father when, after bedding his father's mistress, by means of the woman he has claimed from his father he also is able to claim his father's wealth when she killed him. Sylvia seems to have killed Nelson's father in a fit of passion and then turned to Nelson as if she meant to live with him now that the son would inherit the father's wealth. So Nelson truly does come into his adulthood as his father by means of crossing the boundaries between race and discovering himself in the common ground of lust and greed with Sylvia. Both desire pleasures of the flesh and take thrill in the promise of material wealth. Though Nelson's character may not be the most moral it can certainly be said he gains from the meeting of races and in the interest of common grounds.
Juan from "Godoy Lives" also finds something when he enters America and encounters a new culture. Juan seems to find a happiness his former life lacked and the promise of a better life. It isn't as though he didn't love his wife but he seemed to have been tied to her mostly out of duty and sentimentality in his responsibility for his family. When Pancho finds him and takes him home Juan is given a second shot at life with a new name and persona. It is almost as if he discovers his true self when 'memories' of a past he didn't live come to him as Pancho and his family tell him of Godoy's life. He misses his family but the sweet promise of success and a new love interest are too strong to draw him back to his former life. Though I can't say I condone his seeming abandonment of his family, Juan does win a second shot at a happy life when he crosses the borders into the US and is brought into a new society. Here success and the American dream is the common ground he shares with his 'cousin' and almost every other American despite their race or origins. When he is given the opportunity to achieve that dream he takes it even as his family slips away from him for this new life and dream can keep him happy whereas the 'reality' of his other life did not satisfy him enough to call him back from the land of dreams.

Assimilate, Godoy Lives and Nelson' s Run

Short story is considered to be one of the most brutally difficult styles of writing, due to the concise nature and the absolute lack of room for extraneous information. The pieces in Humor Me’s fiction section rise to the challenge, dealing with several fairly interesting themes, among them love and marriage, either across the borders of race or nations. Alexie’s piece, Assimilation, is one of the longer ones in the section, using the emotional conflict between the married interracial couple of Mary Lynn and Jeremiah. The story weaves through and between their two psychologies and the events that occur over a short, 3-5 hour time-frame, beginning with Mary Lynn’s first shot at infidelity as a cure for her growing dissatisfaction. The writing, a masterful demonstration of short story form, reveals details when it wants to across its length, rather than overloading the story at one end or the other. It ends in not only a cathartic moment of realization for both of the central protagonists, but a chilling representation of what could become of the two were they to leave their marriage, as an unnamed jumper and her intrepid rescuer freeze to death in the water below a traffic-jammed bridge.
Other stories do not have such moments in their handling of the theme of fidelity and marriage. A comparable story, Godoy Lives, places the theme of love and marriage across the strain of nations rather than that of race. The central character of Juan takes up the green card of a dead man, Manuel Godoy, who was on his way to join his family in America. He is unexpectedly met at the border, and adopts not only the man’s name, but his life at the same time. The man proves to be better off than he had ever expected, and Juan, by the story’s end has not only cheated on his wife, but has actually completely disavowed her, adopting the identity of Manuel completely and utterly. A third example of the same themes of love and marriage is Nelson’s Run. This particular theme does not enter the story strongly until the portion where Nelson’s father has come into the story as more than a person in a photograph, at which point he begins to influence Nelson’s mentality in every possible way, imparting upon him a strong belief in Darwinism, racial superiority, and a patriarchal viewpoint that would have to stretch to be more snide in its treatment of women. By the end of the story, the main character has not only slept with his father’s mistress, multiple times, but then abandons her to the criminal justice system when she is jailed for having killed her father in self-defense, turning human relations into a game of costs-versus-benefits.

Nelson: Run. your Birth-mate is Assimilation

What if the suicidal woman near the end of “Assimilation” had been the wife of Mary Lynn’s fling? This would have dramatically changed the conclusion. The moral would not have been akin to the sacredness of family ties across the constructed lines of races. Rather, it may have been “don’t cheat on your husband, or someone will die.” What drives a person to commit suicide in front of a crowd; a life of loneliness culminated by a memorable, socially-involved death?

“Nelson’s Run” has a disturbing mixture of race as related to (bordering on incestuous?) sexuality. Nelson’s appropriates his father’s identity of bigotry, and misogyny into his own. His father identifies with Jefferson (a racist, an owner of 250 some odd slaves), but, at the same time he sees manliness, and a consanguine relation to himself, as above his son’s “racial” status as Native American. Where is the humor in this story? Although well-written, and enjoyable, it seemed more depressing than humorous.

The author of “Birth-mates” cleverly leads the character and the readers into letting their guard down upon Art’s recognition that he is in a “welfare” hospital. The former tensed situation--caused by the description of Art’s fear through his actions (e.g. double locking the door, using the telephone as a weapon, not being able to sleep)—fades into a seemingly innocuous one because the residents are children. The character and readers are then surprised by the next, humorous but sad, element of the story: Art getting knocked out by a gang of small children.

--Lee Ellen

Humor Me assignment

The anthology of stories within Humor Me mainly focus on similar themes of race identity, family culture, and/or individuals within a larger society. I found myself in anticipation while reading these short stories, hoping for an overall positive emotional response. However, I actually find that the stories have mainly caused me to respond in one of two ways. The first is a reflective response, probably due to the unresolved endings of so many of the stories. The second is an overwhelming sadness (or as I would call it – a mild funk). A few of the characters (i.e. Nelson) are very weak in mind and spirit. Their hopes are easily dashed, such as Art Woo in Birthmates, or sidetracked, like Jaun in Godoy Lives.
Godoy Lives tells the story of Juan, who steals a dead man’s identity in hopes of crossing the border. As the story unfolds, the reader discovers this character is easily removed from his original track and becomes engrossed in the lives of the Godoy’s. He is able to remove himself from a previous life and adopt a new reality. Characters like Juan elicit a sense of disappointment from the reader. He does not honor loyalty or righteousness. While characters such as Juan and others elicit disappointment, they also raise the question of whether the character is wrong or doing what is best for their survival. A question that causes many a reader (myself included) to contemplate the morality of the character; and in turn, themselves and society.
The placement of the individual within the society runs as a major theme through the stories, which caused my reflective response to much of the text. Stories like Assimilation and especially Pyramid have no clear ending or resolution. How is Pyramid to be deciphered? What is to be taken away after reading it? The short stories are mainly left open to personal interpretation, which is why I find that this blog is more for my own personal benefit than my peers.

Genevieve :D

Fiction Reflections

One thing I loved about the fiction section within the anthology was the authors’ abilities to address characteristically human emotions and predicaments with such varied styles and structures. Ray Gonzalez’s dreamlike, stream of consciousness pieces serve as extremes on this spectrum, versus the more "traditionally" organized short stories; Gonzalez favors a composition emphasizing a brevity of scenes, lack of formalized structure and scheme, and repeated use of subject-verb-predicate sentences. This in turn creates a sense of urgency for the reader that engages the reader and allows him to momentarily overlook the implausibility of the events taking place: We must find out what happens to the komodo dragon!
Sherman Alexie’s "Assimilation" was particularly captivating in its astute anecdotes and character quirks that—for me—make the story easy to relate to. Bearing witness to the thought processes of the characters—like Mary Lynn’s conclusion that her infidelity is a "political act"—allows us to relate to them through our shared human experience and characteristics, and reminds us that we are all subject to vices and imperfections. There is no threat of over-explanation in the story: relevant details flow together without superfluous information that might be "boring." Another tool that makes the piece particularly interesting is the author’s use of in-the-moment revelations and thoughts of the characters that punctuate the narrative (On page 9, for instance, "his secret: He was still in love with a white woman from high school he hadn’t seen in decades."). This structure reflects genuine human thought processes, which tend to be spontaneous, sporadic, and seemingly random.
"Nelson’s Run" by Peter Bacho is another intriguingly constructed short story. Using the juxtaposition of two superficially unrelated prologues as a narrative structure requires an intimate story-reader relationship, in that it stimulates deeper thought and analysis on the part of the reader. Trying to understand the reason that the author includes both prologues requires reflection and retrospection on the deeper meaning and themes of the gestalt piece. This method of writing permits contradictions and nuances in social belief to emerge from the characters’ interactions. For example, the reverence of women and maternity within some cultures—shown in the scholarly presentation of Dr. Bulaklak—is immediately debunked as a contrary treatment of women is revealed through the story of Nelson’s Daddy, and the subsequent maturation of Nelson.

Short Stories

The short stories section of Humor Me is made up of pieces of fiction that originally are presented one way, but toward the end of the piece an ironic twist of fate occurs. The first story, Sherman Alexie’s “Assimilation, concerns a husband and wife that were separated along racial lines. The wife, Mary Lynn, decides to remedy her growing dissatisfaction with her marriage by sleeping with a Native American man. At the end of the story it is revealed that both husband and wife are experiencing the same sense of disillusion, however they overcome it by realizing in an ironic twist of fate that their love is stronger than a racial divide.
The next piece, “Nelson’s Run”, depicts an affluent white man’s view of race in relation to romantic relationships. Nelson’s father personifies the latent racism of upper middle class America in that he sees not only women inferior but non-white women inferior to himself as well. However, when he begins dating a Polynesian woman Nelson begins sleeping with her and discovers that she is the one taking advantage of Nelson’s father rather than visa versa. This revelation as well as the somewhat comical murder of Nelson’s father at the story’s end contribute to the story’s humorous qualities.
The shorter pieces by Ray Gonzales that make up the remainder if the fiction section within Humor Me play with the reader’s idea of reality by offering up long, almost run-on like narratives that begin somewhat believably and end in a dream-like ridiculous fashion. Komodo Dragon concerns a Komodo Dragon in the narrators backyard that by the end of the narrative has been washed into a trash compactor. The Jalapeño contest begins believably with two brothers having a Jalapeño eating contest and ends with images that include a brother levitating and a Jalapeño angel. Gonzalez does not make it clear weather these images are real or imagined, thereby heightening the humor of the stories.

comment on 1st reading assignment

Short stories in general are, as the name already suggests, stories - just shorter. The usual contemporary short story contains between 1,000 and 20,000 words. However, besides the length of the story there are other characteristics that set the short story aside from its older brother, the novel. Short stories usually contain little or no exposition (or introduction). Quite often we find ourselves dropped right in the middle of things. Furthermore, the ending of a short story is quite often open almost pushing the reader into an interpreting position. What may happen next is the question we are made to answer. Conveniently placed between exposition and end - as in a novel - is the plot of the short story. It usually focuses on one string of action that describes a certain event in a character's life. Traditionally, this action only spans over a relatively short period of time. Only few characters can be found in most short stories, in some only one. In contrast to the average novel the characters are described in less detail. Descriptions in short stories in general focus on what is elementary to the plot. Additional detail that gives the characters more depth like sidestories are usually dropped. Apart from the limited number of words and characters, the short period of time and the extraordinary presentation of introduction and ending the short story has one more more or less distinctive characteristic: the action is usually restricted to if not just one then only a few places. The plot revolves around an inner or outer conflict and is characterised by a high density of emotions. (also see wikipedia on short stories)
The short stories in Humor Me display a lot of these characteristics. Alexie's "Assimilation" is based around an unspoken conflict between Mary Lynn and Jeremiah describing the event that bring to both their minds - or rather hearts - how much they actually feel for each other, their emotions being a central part in the story. Like that short story, all the others have only a small number of characters and most of them also only cover a relatively short period of time and are confined to a small number of places. All of the stories have an open ending and most have a short or non-existent introduction. However, there are some interesting deviations from the laws of short story writing. For example, Peter Bacho has added two prologues to his "Nelson's Run". We find a relatively long and detailed introduction and although the main plot focuses on Nelson's one summer at his dad's place with Sylvia, the short story spans over almost two decades. "I know what you did last summer" by Michele Serros covers a short period of time, namely one summer, but in special in its form. The diary form gives the narrator a very human and emotional complexion. In Ray Gonzales' short stories the essential conflict seems at times a little harder to find. Although they seem to be mere frameworks of short stories than real short stories focusing so much on the essentials, eliminating all unnecessary detail at least compared to the other short stories of the reading assignment.
Thus, if we compare the short stories in Humor Me with the characteristics of a short stories, we can see that exactly the deviations from the rules give some short stories their maybe eccentric but definitely special aspect. "Nelson's Run" brings us to mind how much our parents influence the person we become later in life. Although a short story still in number of words the story covers almost the first two decades of Nelson's life, the time of life in which we are the most receptive to our parents' influence, their input. The diary form makes Serros' short story special. From my own point of view, "Assimilation" is a very emotional short story, touching and basically going along with conventional short stories. "Nelson's Run" of all the stories had probably the most effect on me. "Godoy Lives" came in 2nd place, the ending giving me a shudder. I think that to me it is the small extent of probability and the open, humorous but also sad and a little sketchy ending that makes that story so special. The ending was the most powerful of all the short stories in my opinion. In "Birthmates" the final image of the baby with the bone disease was very touching but for me the main character was too passive, even when he finally comes to grips with his emotions. One only hopes that he can acquire a more active stand in his future course life. The most trouble I had with Ray Gonzales' short stories. Although I liked "Mistakes" a lot because it describes how our decisions in combination with coincidence determine the course of our lives. Decisions can only turn into mistakes when we look back later. Even though quite full of imagery, the least I could get out of Gonzales' "Pyramid". I have some ideas as to what the message of the story might be but even for an open ending, this ending seems to open for my taste or the story too economical in detail - one or the other. As a final observation I found that humor was used in all short stories in some way, in some more openly than in other as already promised to us in the books introduction. The stories themselves I think showed the wide variety of short stories, the different shapes this kind of story can take without losing the ability to convey a central message through a usually single narrative of an important incident in a 'normal' person's life.

Saturday, February 3, 2007

found it yet?

did you read the first assignment?