Sunday, June 30, 2013

Headin' Down South

This week's blog finds us Headin' Down South and getting acquainted with half a dozen generations descended from Kunta Kinte. From there, we visit Georgia and a medley of colorful characters with Carson McCuller's classic, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter. Our final stop is to admire thirteen of  Mississipian, Eudora Welty's, short stories.

Roots by Alex Haley

The classic story of 6 generations beginning with Kunta Kinte's capture by black
slavers in Gambia, Africa. I believe the description of the crossing to America in the belly of a slave ship was one of the most heartbreaking accounts I have ever read. How can anyone be so cruel to another human being?!

Kunta Kinte relays his story to his daughter who ensures that it is repeated for each successive generation.
Alex Haley
This novel chronicles so much more than just the family's history such as what stays the same for each generation as well as the many changes that occur over time. All in all, an encapsulating history of a family that likely could serve as a blueprint for so many others who began in slavery.

Short bio: Alex Haley graduated from high school at the age of 15. Haley dropped out at the age of 17 to enroll in the coast guard. Finding himself bored, he purchased a typewriter and began writing stories and drafting love notes for his friends. Enough of his stories were published by magazines that Haley felt encouraged to continue writing. Soon after, Haley became chief journalist for the Coast Guard and held the rank until his retirement in 1959. Haley is credited with an increase of interest in genealogy.


Carson McCullers, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter

We all know that two of the biggest human motivators are love and fear. McCullers uses both in this celebrated masterpiece.

I found The Heart is a Lonely Hunter to be an ingenious piece of writing in the sense that if I asked readers of this classic who the central character was, I believe most would answer without hesitation "the deaf mute, John Singer. (Although, in hindsight, I am reading reviews that put as Mick as the main character. I would respectfully, disagree. This book could exist without Mick, but not John Singer.) I would agree in spite of the fact that the "narration" comes from shopkeeper, Biff Brannon; drunk, Jake blount; girl student, Mick Kelly; maid, Portia and her father, Doctor Copeland. Each character respects Mr. Singer, seeking him out in order to tell him their dreams and problems. Each believing that Mr. Singer agrees with them and is interested in what they have to say.

At times, I thought there were too many characters to follow and keep straight. But by the end of the book I was glad for each unique viewpoint of Mr. Singer. One reason for my thinking this book borders on ingenious is how McCullers is able to show the reader how our eyes and hearts can deceive us. We so often see and trust that the way we want things to be is the truth of a matter. The slower pace and crisp writing style help lull the reader into trusting they know all about Mr. Singer. There isn't any convoluted phrasing, the author doesn't take the reader at a breath-taking speed around sharp curves, there aren't any tricky twists in the plot, so there is no deception, right?
Carson McCullers

McCullers also does a phenomenal job of contrast with her characters. Young vs. Old, Handicapped vs. Non-handicapped, Poor vs. Not-so-poor, Male roles vs. Female roles, Black vs. White, Communist beliefs vs. Capitalist beliefs, not to mention coming-of-age issues vs. elderly issues. Its amazing how many topics can be touched on in a 307-page novel that doesn't feel fast-paced.

I mentioned in the opening paragraph that love is an issue in this story. With a title like, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, one would expect it to be. Also, I am a believer that fear, not hate, is the opposite of love, so to me it is natural than any story containing fear must contain love as its antithesis. Unfortunately, what is loved and what is feared is so integral to the story that I'm not willing to divulge what those things are for each character, but will only say that each has something they are willing to live (or die) for.

In conclusion, what makes this novel so worth the reading in my opinion is that it can be discussed at length from so many angles.

Short bio:  Born the daughter of a jewelry store owner, McCullers first aspired to be a musician beginning piano lessons  at the age of ten. She moved to New York City with the intent of studying at  Juilliard School of Music. During a bout with rheumatic fever McCullers became interested in writing to the point that she abandoned music. McCullers published her first story, "Wunderkind", at age 19.


Thirteen Stories by Eudora Welty

The Wide Net - William Wallace Jamieson's wife Hazel vanishes. William and neighbors drag a wide net to find her. Where is Hazel? And why did Hazel want to disappear?

Old Mr. Marblehall - Mr. Bird? Nobody ever looks to see who is living in a house like that.
Keela, the Outcast Indian Maiden - Freak show slavery
A Worn Path - For the love of a grandchild, elderly Phoenix Jackson walks the worn path.
Petrified Man - If you wanted to run from the law, how would you disappear?
A Still Moment - A priest, a naturalist and a violent man, "What each of them had wanted was simply all."
Lily Daw and the Three Ladies - Who's really feeble-minded in this story?
The Hitch-hikers - Why you shouldn't pick up hitch-hikers...
Powerhouse - Powerhouse and his Keyboard....You can't tell what he is. ... he looks more Asiatic, monkey, Jewish, Babylonian, Peruvian, fanatic, devil.
Eudora Welty
Why I Live at the P.O. - Sister vs. family
Livvie - He had built a lonely house, the way he would make a cage....
Moon Lake - A summer camp story
The Bride of the Innisfallen - This story is set in Ireland on a train.

Short bio: Welty was awarded Guggenheim fellowships, numerous O. Henry Awards and National Book Award nominations, a National Medal for Literature and entry into France's Legion d'Honneur. She was the 1973 Pulitzer Prize winner for her novel The Optimist's Daughter.  She died on July 22, 2001, at the age of 92.

UP NEXT: ??? Surprise. Tune in next week and see.