Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Taking an active stance (Kolvenbach and Danticat)

We have all been taught from a young age to be active in our lives and to be a driving force in the progression of the world. Kolvenbach, in his presentation “The Service of Faith and the Promotion of Justice in American Jesuit Higher Education,” echoed this sentiment in regards to the Jesuit universities’ requirement to actively promote justice in a world that is full of injustice. The characters in Edwidge Danticat’s Krik? Krak? are drawn between the fear of action and the desire to change the present conditions.

Kolvenbach ardently insists on the need for the Jesuit universities to take an active role in promoting justice in their communities. He states that actions outwardly show the mission of the Jesuit stance because they demonstrate to the world that justice is necessary in every location where oppression is present. Kolvenbach notes, “Since Saint Ignatius wanted love to be expressed not only in words but also in deeds, the Congregation committed the Society to the promotion of justice as a concrete, radical but proportionate response to an unjustly suffering world” (Kolvenbach 27). Kolvenbach believes that an open expression of this refusal to allow repression to occur is the only way to bring about reforms: “Only a substantive justice can bring about the kinds of structural and attitudinal changes that are needed to uproot those sinful oppressive injustices that are a scandal against humanity and God” (Kolvenbach 27). An active participation in the community will enable a new foundation to be built and improvements to take place. Kolvenbach refuses to acknowledge the possibility of standing back and watching as injustice is present; there is a desperate calling to physically go out and aid those who are in need. He especially targets his message at those who attend the Jesuit universities, saying, “Students, in the course of their formation, must let the gritty reality of this world into their lives, so they can learn to feel it, think about it critically, respond to its suffering and engage it constructively. They should learn to perceive, think, judge, choose and act for the rights of others, especially the disadvantaged and the oppressed” (Kolvenbach 34). By exposing themselves to the communities in which they live, the students will be able to link their education with their service experience. They are not expected to solely study; they are expected to connect with those around them and to eradicate the injustice that is occurring around their universities. Kolvenbach strongly urges those who participate in the Jesuit mission to actively participate in their communities and to reform the suffering that they see.

Some characters in Danticat’s work, however, do not acknowledge their responsibility to society; instead, they take an inactive position and refuse to help change the oppressive situations around them. In “Children of the Sea,” for example, the characters are living in a world of gross political corruption in Haiti and are unable to escape the tyranny around them. On the other hand, they do not aid in stopping the tyranny, either. The female narrator and her family listen while their neighbor is interrogated and then violently beaten, not moving an inch to help her: “manman tells papa, you cannot let them kill somebody just because you are afraid. papa says, oh yes, you can let them kill somebody because you are afraid. they are the law. it is their right. we are just being good citizens, following the law of the land. it has happened before all over this country and tonight it will happen again and there is nothing we can do” (Danticat 17). The narrator’s father refuses to realize that they would be able to spur change if they rebelled against the injustice that is occurring around them. He is only concerned about his family’s well-being and not the overall well-being of society. He states that he is being a “good citizen” by not resisting, but it is just this inactivity that enables others to be killed. This is also seen in the story “Nineteen Thirty-Seven” in which Josephine’s mother is violently thrown in prison and treated as a criminal because she is falsely accused of killing another woman’s baby. After moving to Ville-Rose, Josephine and her mother stay with a friend because they do not initially have housing. During this period, Josephine’s mother Manman cares for her friend’s baby because its mother is too tired to do so. One morning, however, the baby is found dead and Manman is immediately accused of being the culprit: “When I rushed out I saw a group of people taking my mother away. Her face was bleeding from the pounding blows of rocks and sticks and the fists of strangers. She was being pulled along by two policemen…The woman we had been staying with carried her dead son by the legs. The policeman made no efforts to stop the mob that was beating my mother” (Danticat 39). In this situation, even the police refuse to take an active role in aiding the woman who is being unjustly beaten by those who do not even know her. No one is willing to ask what truly happened in order to uncover the truth; everyone is determined to perpetuate the suffering and oppression that is occurring before their eyes. Instead of attempting to relieve Manman’s suffering, the citizens of the city increase it and fail to recognize the bestiality of their actions. A few of the characters in Danticat’s work refuse to see the need to take action against the anguish and repression that they see in their everyday lives and completely ignore the fact that they must act in solidarity with their fellow citizens in order to reform their corrupt society.

There is someone, on the other hand, who does take the initiative to change the way that his society is progressing in order to break free from the oppression and suffering that he is experiencing. In “A Wall of Fire Rising,” Guy is determined to succeed in escaping from his mundane, unsatisfactory life by using a hot air balloon in order to fly away from his village: “I just want to take that big balloon and ride it up in the air. I’d like to sail off somewhere and keep floating until I got to a really nice place with a nice plot of land where I could be something new. I’d build my own house, keep my own garden. Just be something new” (Danticat 73). Guy realizes that he must do anything to escape his destiny of forever working in the sugar mill and scraping together money in order to feed his family: “You know that question I asked you before…how a man is remembered after he’s gone? I know the answer now. I know because I remember my father, who was a very poor struggling man all his life. I remember him as a man that I would never want to be” (Danticat 75). He knows that he must be active in achieving his own justice in a world that is obsessed with monetary status. Instead of relying on another to help him, Guy takes his situation into his own hands and finally flies in a hot air balloon (Danticat 76-78). By flying in the balloon, Guy demonstrates that he is able and willing to do whatever he can in order to escape from the lack of equality and freedom from monetary problems that have plagued his life since he was a child.

Kolvenbach’s call to action is a vital characteristic of the Jesuit mission, focusing on the need to aid our communities against the injustices that exist in the world. Danticat’s characters in “Children of the Sea” and “Nineteen Thirty-Seven” fail to see the need to comply with an active approach to ending the suffering in their cities; rather, they are only concerned about their personal situations and their own well-being. Guy in “A Wall of Fire Rising,” on the other hand, recognizes this need to demonstrate a determination and willingness to change what is occurring. He takes action in order to show others that anyone is able to overcome his/her hardships if he/she takes a stance against the norms of society in order to make a positive change. Kolvenbach’s urging, although simple in terms, is not easy to complete.