I thought I would share another fascinating article that I read a few weeks back, about Fearless Girl and Charging Bull in Bowling Green Park, Lower Manhattan. The author, Greg Fallis, brings to discussion the power of symbolism and the role of commercialization in the appropriation and exploitation of meaning.
I realize this article doesn’t (directly) tie to what we’ve been talking about in class recently and might be more of a ‘class links’-type find. However, I think Fallis’ greater point––that meaning is situational––is one that certainly applies to different aspects of the Dream as we’ve looked at it.
“seriously, the guy has a point”
I want to use this space to recommend one of my favorite documentaries of all time, which I think it really relevant to some of the themes we’ve explored in this class (particularly, the reality of the Dream, its accessibility, and the quantifications of opportunity). “Which Way Home,” filmed by Rebecca Cammisa and released in 2009, tells the other side of the immigrant story that we heard tonight: the struggles of those trying to get in. Cammisa follows the journey of Honduran, Guatemalan and Nicaraguan child migrants, some as young as eight years-old, as they leave their families behind in pursuit of opportunity in the United States. The kids follow a perilous trail, train-hopping between freight trains collectively known as “The Beast,” which run from southern Central America to the Rio Grande at the U.S.-Mexican border. For many, the journey ends badly, if not tragically. Menaced by predatory smugglers and corrupt police, children (some of whom travel alone) must contend with unpredictable weather, hunger, and the constant dangers associated with their means of travel and the life on the streets they must adapt to. To make things more tragic, some travel thousands of miles in hope of finding opportunity (in the form of well-paying work, adoption, education, a secure life in a thriving American metropolis, connection with missing family members, etc.), only to be intercepted by law enforcement agents at the border and deported back home. Give it a watch when you have the chance; it’s a must-see in my mind.
Something that really stood out to me in this film is the level of dedication from the Dreamers. Come to think of it, I find it pretty ironic how the very people the US is trying hard to push out are the people who embody the American Dream the most. The resilience and tenacity of the undocumented people was honestly something that really stuck out to me in this film.
I found the inclusion of a woman who was a legal citizen of the US very interesting. I think that by including her story, the movie showed the severe impact that deportation and harsh immigration policies have on the families of those experiencing the brunt of them. And in doing so demonstrated to watchers that these policies affect people far beyond just those who are undocumented. Do you think her story was more or less effective than others in the movie? Or maybe just completely different?
I thought it was very interesting the way the movie criticized President Obama. Typically, he is presented as being a President who has aided and improved immigration reform in America, and yet this film seems to disagree. What did you all think of the portrayal of Obama in this piece?
For me and seemingly for the characters on stage, Momo’s message was the most touching moment of the play. She writes very genuinely, “Drink less than I did. Go to church. Be good to everyone you love. I love you more than you’ll ever know” (123). After Deirdre reads the message, everyone is quietly crying, appreciating the letter. However, by the next page, the family is already disobeying the Momo’s wishes. Erik goes for another beer even though he is noticeably drunk. Deirdre remarks nastily, “in sickness and health” (124) to Brigid after Brigid tells them that Richard is trying to get them to like him. These responses by Deirdre and Erik, two characters quite close to Momo’s age, are very interesting. Perhaps even though one can agree that nothing in life is worth getting so worked up about, one still can’t embrace this philosophy. Maybe the different social pressures operating in this play (class consciousness, marriage etc.) are simply more powerful than any message that Momo can provide them.
All the characters at one point or another in the play make an effort to avoid truthfully telling their family how they are. A good example of this starts on page 48 where Aimee asks Deirdre “So how are you, Mom?”, and Deirdre after replying with a vague “I’m good, I’m good” changes the subject by talking about a girl she knew who just recently killed herself. Deirdre continues to dodge the question, talking about her charity work with the refugees. The climax of the story comes after everyone has had a few drinks and as the night comes to a close, Erik decides to break the news that he has lost his job and has cheated on Deirdre. Because everyone finally starts truthfully expressing themselves, they are able to being to see what they need from each other, and what they need to do to make a happier family. Why is it necessary to spend the majority of the night under the cover of niceties and superficial conversations, only becoming constructive with each other basically when Erik and Deirdre are getting in the car to leave. Why did Erik choose the moment he did to really start talking to his daughters, when there would be too little time to resolve any issues that arise?
I found Deirdre’s forgiveness of Erik rather interesting in this passage. Despite his having an affair, the pair’s relationship does not seem particularly strained throughout the play other than the typical nostalgia for young love that older married couples often describe feeling. A point where we see some tension is when Erik tells Deirdre that he loves her, and she does not return the sweet sentiment (140). Because we only get to see Erik and Deirdre’s relationship while they are with their children, I feel as though readers, just like their kids, are being shielded from the truth. Do you think there’s more tension behind the relationship than the pair is letting on? Are there other points in the novel that we see this?
A passage from this reading that really stood out to me was on page 138 when Momo starts screaming at Erik to “go home” and then repeatedly mentions a hole. This reminded me of Erik’s dream involving a dark tunnel. It seems to me that in this novel Momo must serve some greater purpose than just being an old woman who is losing her mind. What purpose do you all think Momo serves, and do you think her reference to a hole has to do with Erik’s dream? Does Momo somehow actually know more than the rest of them?
Page 101, Deirdre: “What makes a person powerful and influential and wealthy is not growing up with power and influence and wealth. That what the e-mail, anyway… the gift of poverty is a… it’s not a myth,/ it’s a real thing, it can be a blessing…”
This is the first comment in our readings that finds a virtue in poverty, that perhaps the American Dream as focused on economic mobility is corrupt. Thoughts?
“Yea.. well.. what’s crazy is how you still mess up.. it’s crazy how you you still-” Erik makes this statement to Richard on page 86 while describing the horror that was experiencing 9/11. Later we find that this is a loaded comment, implicitly hinting at Erik’s unfaithfulness to Deirdre. However it also is linked to a conversation between Erik and Aimee later on page 90:
Erik: “Don’t you think surviving that day means something?”
Aimee: “Because for me- hey -hey-hey, I’m telling you what I think, I think it means the two of us were in New York on a terrible morning./ That’s all…”
Deirdre confirms Aimee’s response, however claiming that her faith in God to forge the right path assures her that this event was predestined. These two viewpoints, of attaching meaning to catastrophes or dismissing it as nothing more than consequence, are reflected in real life too. So many miraculous stories of human strength emerge after being victims to events like 9/11, the Boston Bombings or school shootings. These individuals become awaken to a new responsibility to contribute to something ‘more’- yet the events that are required to propagate these changes come at much higher costs. Why are we unable to reach these levels of social commitment prior to life lost?
But it’s also impossible to ignore that we are subject to personal faults no matter what event had ‘purified’ us. Erik addresses this internal conflict, how his survivor’s responsibility is fighting his imperfections which were present even before 9/11 occurred. How ‘life-changing’ can an event be? How much does a person truly change?
Also, found this relevant passage from the book “Superforecasting: The Art and Science of Predicting” by Tetlock and Gardner:
On page 148, Tetlock states that “among survivors of the 9/11 attacks, for example, those who saw meaning in the atrocity were less likely to suffer post-traumatic stress responses.”
On page 81, Aimee comments: “Maybe loving someone long-term is more about.. deciding whether to go through life unhappy alone or unhappy with someone else?” This assumption that life is composed of misery is echoed by sentiments from Erik later in the play. However, Aimee statements begs question into why people engage in relationships or families to begin with- is it to avoid social criticism? Do we engage in relationships out of the comfort of presence, not because of love? So that our actions do not feel as minuscule as they realistically are, but hold an impact over at least one other individual? Do we marry, have children, embark on ‘life’ because it is expected of us at a certain time? Does this theoretical timeline thereby give us purpose- that with having a family or partner, there is reason to strive?
This also reminded me of “Catcher in the Rye,” when Holden Caulfield remarks that, if he could, he would save all children before they fall off the ‘ledge’, before they become burdened with expectations and can act on a freedom based on blissful ignorance.
I thought I should share some of these links that I looked at to find the meaning of the characters names. I found the Irish connections to be particularly interesting.
Deirdre: fear and heart break
And the name Erik is associated with power and Momo is someone crazy.
I find Momo’s incoherent ramblings quite interesting throughout the story. I keep finding myself reading them again and again, trying to find a hint of something real, some message she is trying to get across. In reading the family’s responses to Momo, it reminds me of my own family’s responses to some of the nonsense that my grandpa spewed when he was in the later stages of Alzheimers. Do you think there is some sort of meaning behind the things she is saying? Do you think these will become more important as the story progresses?
After Richard openly shares his past with depression, Erik replies, “Sorry, hey, sorry, just…in our family we don’t, uh, we don’t have that kinda depression”(105). What does Erik’s use of the phrase “in our family” imply about his understanding of depression? Is this understanding a function of Erik’s social class, age, or merely a common societal understanding? Does Karam agree that depression is, at least in part, genetic? How does his discussion of depression relate to his other portrayals of touchy subjects, such as religion and wealth?
What are your thoughts on the three epigraphs Stephen choose to frame The Humans from from Hill Freud and Lorca? The theme of fear seems to run through the three quotes as well as the idea of wearing a mask or being two sided. I found that these themes were also apparent throughout the play. Having read Think and Grow Rich (a gift from my grandparents who wanted me to better myself) I can speak to the Hill quote. If I remember correctly Hill stressed the importance of visualization and having the correct mindset to acquire wealth and success in life. If you allow yourself to let your fears dominate your mindset you won’t be successful. This connects to the duality of the other quotes in that according to Hill in order to live your life well you have to let go of these fears and focus on actually living your life. To answer Erin’s question on Erik being so paranoid and the only one who reacts to the thuds perhaps he is in the process of working through these fears. Perhaps there is also a connection to the other two quotes, what are you thoughts?
Finally, given the importance that Deirdre places on religion could the choice of having three citations have religious connections to the Trinity or is that too much of a stretch?
On page 37 Stephen introduces us to Erik’s work through questioning from Richard and responses from his girlfriend. When Brigid responded that the high school that Erik worked at was St. Paul’s I immediately thought of the prep school St. Paul’s in my home state of New Hampshire (although I believe that Stephen is referring to a school in Scranton). Erik and Deirdre’s potential lake house which doesn’t seem to be going to be built as Erik responds to Richard “Uh, no, that’s a long ways away” (38) is similarly revealed through questioning from Richard. I enjoyed how Stephen was able to accurately portray dialogue throughout the play. A question I had while reading the play is if Stephen is trying to make a social commentary on the age gap between Brigid and Richard? Is there a potential connection to the St. Paul’s statutory rape Owen Labrie case? Thoughts?
Is there a reason Erik is so paranoid? Every thud he hears really startles him. He becomes so fixated on it even though everyone else ignores it.
The structure of this book is so different from any other work we’ve read so far, and I really appreciate that. The play opens in the middle of a scene and the reader is scrambling to figure out who is who. At first, I was very confused and a bit overwhelmed by the structure, but I quickly grew to love it. I enjoy seeing the family members interacting with each other and the way that the author includes descriptions of the character’s placements helped paint a vidid picture in my mind. While reading other books, I feel like a passive onlooker. However, the formatting of this book put me in the scene with the characters and it really caught my attention.
The dialogue is very competitive between the parents and the kids, as Karam employs language like “score one for mom” (71). The criticisms and comedic insults back and forth from parents to kids regarding the state of the house and neighborhood further illustrate the competitive vibe. Thus, perhaps in their pursuit of better lives for themselves, Brigid and Aimee are in a competition with their parents. And this competition produces an environment where family members are constantly trying to boast their accomplishments while diminishing those of other members.