Friday, September 29, 2006

Obstacles to Excellence

The concept of university education takes on a whole new meaning in the context of Danticat’s “Children of the Sea.” While the boyfriend continues on towards America, he briefly mentions university exams and how they consumed his time. While sailing on a boat, he still considers the possible education he left behind. The girlfriend finds the university exams just as important, writing, “tonight, they read the list of names of people who passed the university exams. you passed” (24). This letter also contained the account of the girlfriend’s father saving her life, making the news of the university exam pale by comparison. The message of Danticat is certainly not against education, but helping people to realize that not everyone is so lucky as to make that pursuit their first priority. While such a chaotic atmosphere loudly calls for Kolvenbach’s idea of, “academic excellence- excellence needed in order to solve complex social problems,” (30) Danticat shows that those very bright individuals are being robbed of that opportunity by the need to survive.
Although “Children of the Sea” shows an extreme separation from education, it makes a person wonder how many people are missing out on and education right in Baltimore. After working with St. Ignatius students, I’ve begun to wonder what these young men will do when looking for higher education. Will the opportunity be there for them? Is St. Ignatius their stepping stone to a free college education? I only hope that their excellence is permitted to shine at the highest level in just a few years.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

I agree with Alex's point about Danticat's views on father figures and I was struck in much the same way--how clearly that message was perceived despite (or perhaps because of) the fact that the book is so focused on women's stories.

Developing the idea of the father, particularly in the way that the father relates to the city, I think is especially acceptable through the Roman Catholic Church. In a way unlike our traditional political structure (which assigns branches of government to even the most sparsely populated of places), the Church sees it fit to install a bishop, who is much more like a father than is a mayor because he is a lone decision-maker for his diocese, whose responsibility it is to look over the city. I think this humanizing idea, viewing a city as a family with a father, is a clearer way to enter into the idea of justice and the city, about which Kolvenbach writes specifically (although he dealt with universities instead of diocese), and Danticat and Achebe write about peripherally.

Further, I think that the social problem that so many pundits point to when attributing the ills of urban life--that being the loss of the father in urban America--remninds us of the grave responsibility that not only men, but all members of society owe to the children of the city, both figuratively and literally.

Structural Barriers Restraining Freedom

In Calvino’s Invisible Cities, Napoleon explains, “For those who pass it without entering, the city is one thing; it is another for those who are trapped by it and never leave. There is a city where you arrive for the first time; and there is another city which you leave to never return” (Calvino 125). Similar to this excerpt from Calvino, structural barriers of the city seem to dominate the characters in Danticat’s Krick? Krak!.

In the first chapter, “Children of the Sea,” the main character says, “when we sing, ‘Beloved Haiti, there is no place like you. I had to leave you before I could understand you,’ some of the women started crying. At times, I just want to stop in the middle of the song and cry myself” (Danticat 9). The male character on the boat and the other passengers had no other option—besides death—to leave the country they loved. As a result of his political beliefs, it was too dangerous to live in Haiti, the land he grew up in. Ultimately, the passengers on board did not get the justice they deserved and tragically died at sea.

In a similar situation, faced with a life of poverty and hunger, Guy and his family were living miserably, with no way out in “A Wall of Rising Fire.” Unable to obtain a steady job, Guy was trapped and suffocated in the city. “But look what he [God] gave us instead. He gave us reasons to want to fly” (Danticat 68). He needed to find a way to leave, some type of hope to look on the other side of “the wall of rising fire,” for a better life.

Their city, so to speak, either forces them to escape, or makes them desperately want to leave their native land. These ultimatums seem radically unjust. I felt as if the struggle to escape was a major theme of Krick? Krak!. The utter helplessness of the majority of characters in the novel so far appear to all trace back to the land in which they live in, the city in which their freedom is trapped.

Strength found through Remebrance

Danticat chooses to show how strength can be found in many areas of ones life. One such area is that of remembrance. The memories one has of their past and love ones gives them a strength to face the future. Sometimes the memories of a loved one and the happiness that existed at one point, give a person strength to make it through a hard time. At other times it is the suffering and injustice of the past that show a person they are not alone in their suffering and it brings comfort to them in their times for need. Also, the remembrance of those who have died helps keep their spirit alive, which brings comfort to those that are left to mourn. Danticat gives excellent examples of this in her stories.
For example in the story Children of the Sea, the lovers are separated after the revolution breaks out. They most likely will never see or contact eachother again but they write letters anyway. They use the happiness of their past to give them hope and strength through the hard times they were presently facing. Also, in Ninteen Thirty- Seven even though the mother and daughter have both suffered through great losses they are comforted by the fact that they are not suffering alone with their loss. The mother takes pilgrimages to Massacre River to remember the loss of her mother, and she is joined by other women who too have lost their mothers. She has the comfort of her mothers memory while at time is given strength by not being alone. Also, the daughter gains strength through the visit by a woman who traveled with them to Massacre River to mourn her lost loved ones. This woman joins the daughter as she too begins to mourn the death of her mother. Again the cycle continues, the daughter is comforted by her memories but gains the strength to go on because she knows she is not alone.
If it were not for our memories we would not be able to decipher between the good and bad. We would never know true happiness without knowing complete saddness. Through our memories we keep moments and people alive, they allow us to never forget how we came to where we are today. But at the same time they give confidence in the fact that we can handle what is to come. Memories build on experiences and those very experiences carry us through life. By rellaying the experiences of the saddness and joy of the characters in Krik? Krak! Danticat is giving the reader strength.

Justice for whomever you think it should be for

What is the definition of “justice”? Apparently there are several definitions. There is the definition that the Center for Community Service and Justice gives; a somewhat liberal definition that everyone has basic needs and we should work to make sure every person gets those needs, allowing Loyola students to go into Baltimore and help those whom they don’t think has what is needed. There is George Bush’s idea of justice where everyone deserves the lifestyle that Americans have, and that allows him to invade other countries, forcing our way of life on many who don’t particularly want it. There is the justice that is given by every prison and judicial system, where they assume that it is justified to imprison someone because of the acts that they might have committed in the past. This leads me to think one thing, justice is a term used by someone to justify whatever action they want to commit or to reject any action that goes against what they want.
This can be proven through the text of Krik? Krak!. For, although beautifully written and an excellent form of prose on so many people’s experiences, it seems the author thinks that an injustice is occurring to the poor in Haiti. Through Guy’s desire and following demise because of the wealthy Arab’s hot-air balloon (76), the poor woman’s necessity to throw away her baby in order to survive (92) and the rich man’s comments asking why the poor cannot “get a spell to make themselves rich,” Danticat is making a very clear statement of who is in control and who is possibly to blame for the injustice occurring in Haiti.(95) It seems that through these examples that Danticat gives, she is trying to show the unjust living situation of the poor and the cynical views of the rich of Haiti. Danticat’s idea of justice seems to be the rejection of whatever the rich or those in government do.
However, Danticat leaves out the description of how even the rich suffered from the government’s constant coups and unjust actions on all people, not just the poor. She does not mention the fires set on those same Arabs’ compounds because of the enemies they had. She does not mention the sufferings that the wealthy went through. She seems to think that the rich only see the poor as the unanswerable problem; they do not have issues of their own, their own injustices that they are facing.
This is a major dilemma! Not only in Krick? Krak!, but even in only defining the word “justice”, it seems that everyone wants justice to fix their own individual problems. This is not said in order to lessen the gravity of their problems, there are severe problems that need more than a quick-fix by other people. Iraq’s problems cannot be fixed by Americans quickly overthrowing their original government and then leaving them without any support system. The problems of crime cannot be solved by only punishing the criminal and leaving them to their own devices in our prison systems. The idea of justice needs to incorporate all people. Justice is supposed to be for all, and in order to accomplish that, we need to see all things through everyone’s eyes. Only in doing this, no matter how idealistic it sounds, will we be able to make justice truly work.

Father Figures

Much of what I put in my analysis of the first half of the book dealt with the role of the father figures in the stories. Although most of the book is comprised of the relationships between Haitian women, there is always a subtle commentary on the importance of a father figure. Aside from 1937, which did not have a father figure, the first half of the novel had several perspectives.
Children of the Sea deals with two lovers, one of which is a teenage girl who has had many problems with her father. In the beginning, he is shown as the family tyrant who deals with his inadequecies by putting down his children. We see this character develop by the end of the story when he saves Josephine and softens up as a result. Josephine, in her constant mentioning of her father, shows that she needs a paternal figure there to guide her. At the end of the story, our view of Josephine's father evolves into a more sympathetic one.
A Wall of Fire Rising deals more directly with the role of a father figure. Here, Guy simply abandons his family for a chance to live his dream of flying a hot air balloon. Despite the fact that his actions are looked down upon, Danticat still manages to victimize Guy through Little Guy's speeches.
Finally, Nightwomen depicts a mother and son who yearn for the return of their husband/father. He is sorely needed both for the son who is at that crucial young, innocent age and the wife who seems to be trying to fill the gap left behind by the lover that gave her her son.
Overall, I believe this book (so far) tells us an incredible amount about Danticat's view of the father figure. The father is desperately needed to make sense of the tumultuous culture of Haiti at the time. The father is also desperately needed by his children for guidance and love, and by their wives, who need a strong spirit to feed of of. Despite the negative context in which each of these three fathers are portrayed, they still warrant sympathy from the reader.

Father Figures

Much of what I put in my analysis of the first half of the book dealt with the role of the father figures in the stories. Although most of the book is comprised of the relationships between Haitian women, there is always a subtle commentary on the importance of a father figure. Aside from 1937, which did not have a father figure, the first half of the novel had several perspectives.
Children of the Sea deals with two lovers, one of which is a teenage girl who has had many problems with her father. In the beginning, he is shown as the family tyrant who deals with his inadequecies by putting down his children. We see this character develop by the end of the story when he saves Josephine and softens up as a result. Josephine, in her constant mentioning of her father, shows that she needs a paternal figure there to guide her. At the end of the story, our view of Josephine's father evolves into a more sympathetic one.
A Wall of Fire Rising deals more directly with the role of a father figure. Here, Guy simply abandons his family for a chance to live his dream of flying a hot air balloon. Despite the fact that his actions are looked down upon, Danticat still manages to victimize Guy through Little Guy's speeches.
Finally, Nightwomen depicts a mother and son who yearn for the return of their husband/father. He is sorely needed both for the son who is at that crucial young, innocent age and the wife who seems to be trying to fill the gap left behind by the lover that gave her her son.
Overall, I believe this book (so far) tells us an incredible amount about Danticat's view of the father figure. The father is desperately needed to make sense of the tumultuous culture of Haiti at the time. The father is also desperately needed by his children for guidance and love, and by their wives, who need a strong spirit to feed of of. Despite the negative context in which each of these three fathers are portrayed, they still warrant sympathy from the reader.

Krik? Krak!

Danticat's "Krik? Krak!" is a book I was immediately drawn to, and unable to put down. I am intrigued by her style of writing. It is so simplistic and honest, yet somehow remains so detailed and specific. Haiti came alive in the images I was able to create in my mind through her deeply developed characters, and compelling stories.
In the section "Children of the Sea", I thought she used the repetition of words to really connect the two writers. For example, the section opens "They say behind the mountains are more mountains. Now I now it's true" in the boy's letter, and the reader sees this idea come up again on pg 26 when the girl writes, " i see mountains, and behind those are more mountains still". I thought this was such an interesting concept to show that no matter how far away these two young lovers are they are feeling similar things, even writing similar things. Through this repetition Danticat expresses the close ties these two characters really share, almost to a point of eeriness. She uses this method again, when first the boy writes on pg 15, "Maybe the sea is endless. Like my lover for you", and later on pg 29 she writes "a sea that is endless like my love for you".
I noticed that Danticat uses more characterization, than physical descriptions to display a portrait of Haiti, but I found one settings description that really stood out. On pg 34 she writes, " "I am from Ville Rose," I said, "the city of painters and poets, the coffee city, with beaches where the sand is either black or white, but never mixed together, where the fields are endless and sometimes the cows are yellow like cornmeal". I loved this description of Ville Rose because it’s written so clearly I feel as if I've been there and seen it with my own eyes. I thought the randomness of what the speaker chose to describe his city (from beaches to cows) very fitting for how one often describes their hometown. When I went to Beans and Bread a few weeks ago I met a volunteer who is from Buffalo, my hometown. As we conversed I realized how different my Buffalo is from her Buffalo, but we could both still appreciate each others experiences and descriptions. I later met a homeless woman originally from Buffalo, and her idea of the city was vastly different than mine, but it was so interesting to hear her speak. It really proved to me how experiences can make a city so different and individualistic for every person living there.

Another passage that struck me was “A Wall of Fire Rising". The entire passage places emphasis on the great rebel of freedom, Boukman, who contributed to Haitian independence, but then ends on such a solemn ironic note when Guy commits suicide. As the young boy looks down on his father he recites the lines, “one piercing cry that we may either live freely or we should die" (pg 80). I think Danticat uses subtlety, but effectively evokes the question of what freedom really is. Because Guy and his family were a poor marginalized group of people, the official Haitian freedom ended up meaning very little change for them. When I read this story I thought of the people I met at Beans and Bread, and how possibly they see the idea of freedom much less valuable than I see it. It made me wonder if freedom is only an active ideal for those who can afford to benefit from it. I am beginning to see the ties of human struggle between each chapter’s stories, but I am interested to read on to see if deeper purposeful connections are made among the different characters.

Injustice and Hope

I agree entirely with Lauren and her post. I think Danticat is painting a picture of the injustices of cities in Haiti, which do shine a very harsh light on cities, especially what the people from Haiti must think of a city. This is evident in Achebe's No Longer at Ease as well, when he describes parts of the city. There are the smells that Obi recalls, such as rotting flesh and the sights, the slums in particular. These all shine a negative light on Lagos and highlight the injustices and downfalls that cities face simply because of the fact that they are a city. Danticat weaves this same thread throughout all her stories. There is the city in "Children of the Sea" with it's political injustice that allows soldiers to randomly kill citizens and force them to perform perverse sexual acts. There is the description in "Nineteen Thirty Seven" that recalls many of the same words that Obi used to describe Lagos, such as rotting flesh. And finally, there is the city in "Wall of Rising Fire" where Guy has no hope left for a job or progress and therefore decides to kill himself, leaving his wife and child behind.

The cities in Danticat and Achebe's novels both show how desperate a city could make certain people, mostly those that are poverty stricken. The people in both the authors stories have almost nothing, live through injustice after injustice and at times there is always more that manages to be taken away from them. But, regardless of all the injustice and depression that is quite evident throughout these stories, there is still a sense of hope, albeit small and hard to see, it is there and is another characteristic and positive aspect of living in a city. As far as the hope in Achebe is concerned, education takes place in a city, technology is evident in a city, privilege and opportunity are all alive in a city. There is even hope evident in the people who bribe Obi, the hope that their children will have a chance to be educated and lead a better life. In Danticat, it is harder to see the hope, but it is there and it is alive mostly when a city is involved. In "Children of the Sea" the longing for education is in Port-au-Prince, if nothing else, and there are many ambitious young people in the city that took university exams to get out of the city and lead better lives. There is also the hope in "Wall of Rising Fire" when Lili won't allow her husband to put their young son on a working list because she wants him to have higher expectations than working in the fields. Because of their witness to such horrific events in the city, they have hope for a better future and even though the injustices are so bad, they continue to instill hope in the habitants for something better that they may not have had if they didn't witness these injustices.

I think this finally, all ties into the Kolvenbach Speech and what we as a university are responsible to do. We should be witnessing these injustices, discovering the roots of them and helping the suffering out of them, but mainly trying to end them altogether. We were given the opportunity to come to an amazing academic institution and to receive a top rate education, but also we were given the opportunity to see the injustices of the world and bring justice. The two novels we have read so far paint extremely vivid pictures of city life, the good and the bad, and it is only the tip of the iceberg, there are plenty more injustices that haven't been touched yet and many more reasons for hope in the dwellers in these cities. And as I think Kolvenbach was trying to say, we are supposed to foster these hopes and try to have these people see them through.

Like Father Like Son, Like Mother Like Daughter

It is not simply coincidence that both Acehebe and Danticat iclude passages that reference their characters' ancestry. Kolvenbach discusses the integral issue of social justice and how it should be approached; I believe that how one actually adresses the issues of justice and faith is, if even subconsciencly, a product of how one's family has approached it.

When Obi confronts his father about his desire to marry Clara, an osu, though it was still considered taboo to associate with anyone who was a descent of osu affiliation, his father Isaac shares his own story of his past. "Mr. Braddeley thought I spoke about the white man's messenger whom my father killed. He did not know I spoke about Ikemefuna, with whom I grew up in my mother's hut until the day came when my father killed him with his own hands"(Achebe, 157). Isaac Okonkwo rejected his father and his beliefs because he refused to let the traditional ways of his Igbo people justify the murder of his innocent adopted brother. Obi had always felt a disdain towards his own father, but when he was chastised for even contemplating a union with an osu woman, he defied his own people for submitting to a social norm that was so obviously prejudiced and wrong, just as his father had before him.

The narrator of the passage Between the Pool and the Gardenias, in Danticat's Krik? Krak! references her martyred heritage and the pride and sense of duty that each of theri stories left her, "I always knew they would come back and claim me to do good for somebody. Maybe I was to do some good for this child"(Danticat, 95). The narrator could have easily been disenchanted when considering the position she held as a servant for a bourgeois couple, and the ill fate that her ancestors met as a result of their Haitian ethnicity. But in this passage she represents the resounding inner hope and faith that each of her descendents displayed when challenged.

Justice by Remembrance

“Justice” how can you define it and does it really exist. An optimistic person might tell you that it exist, but only in fleeting moments of any given persons lifetime. A pessimistic person may tell you that justice does not exist and that life is only a endless experience of pain and suffering. Each person makes their decisions about justice from personal experiences. When authors write stories are they merely telling stories that have been passed down to them or does each story carry a piece of them. In Danticat’s case I think it’s a little bit of both worlds.
In her stories it is easier to see and feel a sense of injustice. In chapters such as “Nineteen Thirty-Seven” readers can easily see the injustice which superstition can bring into the world. But even before superstition is incorporated into the story, a tale of a massacre is clearly stated. How can the reader view justice in this world where people are killed brutally for their race or gender? How can readers see through the deaths to something more?
It is in the unity of the women “who have lost their mothers” where the readers can find hope and justice. Danticat does not give the reader a resolution or a “happy ending”, but she does show the strength of the human soul through the acceptance and survival of her characters. When their mothers are killed they mourn, but continue living. The characters continue living by remembering the ones who have been lost through “pilgrimages” to the “place where it all begun.” This is the justice that we see in Danticat, it is the act of remembrance and survival.

Cultural Justice as evident in Achebe and Danticat

In his essay, Kolvenbach addresses the Jesuit mission as the “service of faith and promotion of justice” (25.) His essay of justice addresses social justice, which he believes to be an active justice where people must reach out and embrace their community. The justice Kolvenbach speaks of is one with faith. He states that, “injustice is rooted in a spiritual problem, and its solution requires a spiritual conversion” (32.) In both Danticat and Achebe justice is a main issue. The justice sought in their novels possesses both similarities and differences to the type of justice Kolvenbach speaks of.

Danticat addresses both social justice as well as a cultural justice, also seen in Achebe’s novel. In Children of the Sea many social justices issues arise with the father in Haiti during the military coup. Manman states to papa that, “you cannot let them kill somebody just because you are afraid” and papa replies, “oh yes, you can let them kill somebody because you are afraid” (17.) This failure to confront the problem relates back to Kolvenbach when he states that justice is active. In order to achieve justice a person must confront the issue or else it will never go away. Cultural justice issues arise during the boyfriend’s trip on the boat when he discusses what Bahaman people think of Haitian people. Although his country is in shambles he still takes pride in where he came from. He notes this again when he is talking about keeping the boat from sinking and says, “we might all have to strip down to the way we were born, to keep ourselves from drowning” (20.) This is the most beautiful description I have ever read of the need to let go of prejudices and embrace humankind as a whole because if we don’t everything will collapse.

These cultural justice issues also arose in Achebe’s novel with Obi. He struggles to bring justice to his birthplace of Nigeria after he returns from England. His tribesman elevate him over anyone else because he is the chosen one received an English education. Achebe really delves into the cultural justice when he uses the Ibu language instead of English. That is his way to point out that even if all the stereotypes claim English to hold more power than any other language, the Ibu language is still powerful. Achebe describes cultural justice as the need to defend and honor your heritage, yet embrace and face other cultural ideas.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

The Importance of Education, Indicated in Contemporary Literature

Education is an important theme that connects Chinua Achebe's No Longer at Ease and Krik? Krak!, by Edwidge Danticat. As the old saying goes, 'knowledge is power,' so to be a learned person or an educated person, means that those who value education behold power. Both of the central characters in the novels, Obi Okonkwo and Kompe, know the importance of education and what opportunities will open up to them if they pursue higher education. In essence, both men are living in a time when education is their only ticket out of a life of hardship and poverty.

Statistics generally show that, those who have been college educated tend to be more Liberal. Why is this? Education stantds to shead light on the social injustices that so many people pretend not to notice. In this country, the Democratic adgenda tends to focus more heavily on social programs to better the lives of those who are less fortunate. And a big part of that is to try and provide education to everyone. If everyone is educated, then as a society, we are taking the right path to equality. Threfore, it is a fair assumption to say that people who are educated are more just.

So then why did Obi finally succumb to the temptation of accepting a bribe, after refusing them so many times before? Here we have a man, who was the shining star of his people, their beacon of light and hope, a man who was educated in London, England, a man who should have been more just than others because of his education, accepting a bribe. There are a myriad of reasons why Achebe does this, the most obvious being social satire. This is the way things were in colonial Nigeria and Obi was only doing what he had to do to survive. But on another level, perhaps Obi's action actually was just. Having been on the scholarship board, maybe he just wanted to spread hope to everyone by providing them with an education.

There is no doubt that these authors are showing the importance of education through their contemporaty literature. Imbedded within each page is the message that education will provide her recipients with a vast amount of knowledge and opportunity, but to think of these novels in that respect is a tad ironic as those who are uneducated will never hear the message.

Transitions

In class, we spent a lot of time discussing cities but not as much time talking about what happens during the travel from one city to another. In both No Longer at Ease and Krik? Krak!, the boundaries between cities blur during travel scenes set in the middle of the ocean. Reading Achebe, I was really interested by chapter three, the scene during which Obi travels between London and Lagos on a boat. This scene plays a vital role in the novel because it addresses transition and change as much as it directly foreshadows Obi's future. It is on the boat that Obi first learns that Clara is returning with him to Lagos and when he first kisses her. When Obi leaves London, the ocean is still peaceful, but as he nears Lagos, he begins to feel seasick: "At first the Bay of Biscay was very calm and collected...Then as evening approached, the peace and smoothness vanished quite suddenly." (28).

In Krik? Krak!, the opening scene resembles chapter three in Achebe's novel. Though we don't encounter the character on the boat again in the first half of the novel, his documentation of the travel is poignant and relevant. The narrator is a refugee from Haiti, traveling to Miami and reflecting on his love for a young woman back home. He demonstrates both fear and anticipation at the thought of arriving (or not arriving) in Miami while maintaining close emotional and intellectual ties to his home city by writing to the young woman in his knowing, aware that she may never see his words. "I am trying to think, to see if I read anything more about Miami...I can't tell exactly how far we are from there. We might be barely out of our own shores." (6). There is a sense of confusion and uncertainty between cities.

Though we've been referring to cities as places of departure and arrival, it is during the travel that a person forms expectations while maintaining the clearest memories. I don't think that it is only by chance that both Danticat and Achebe included a scene in which a character has to travel over water, which represents seemingly endless uncertainty.

What's in a Name?

Kolvenbach states: “originally founded to serve the educational and religious needs of poor immigrants populations”(22).
One of the primary Jesuit missions of a Jesuit university is to be placed in a city to encourage and promote the wellbeing of that city and its society. Loyola’s new mission statement or theme of this year is “Year of the City” which takes its roots from the Jesuit mission. However, the novelty of this statement brings the theme into question. What was Loyola’s prior intention throughout the past years? Why has this mission and moneys directed toward this mission become a new eye- opening experience when it should have been promoted and integrated into Loyola from the start.
Had Loyola separated itself intentionally from the city? Take into account the name of Loyola, “Loyola college of Maryland”. This is an odd title considering most Loyolas around the Nation assume the name of their city: Loyola of New Orleans and Loyola of Chicago. Why does Loyola of Maryland become Loyola of Baltimore and yet to truly make a statement and further promote their theme of “Year of the City”?
By taking the name Baltimore into Loyola’s title, Loyola would not only be physically assimilating itself with the city but also symbolically. Therefore, Loyola’s theme “Year of the City” would not remain a one year event, but would retain itself to a permanent fixture of the Loyola community. Loyola college of Baltimore would finally take hold and live up to its Jesuit mission.
How would this name change affect the community? Would it affect it at all? Can Loyola not only make a symbolic impact on the city, but also show a force from its students? Will the students even care for a name change? I would. Let’s live up to our mission and our duties as a Jesuit institution.

The Necessity of Justice in the City

I was particularly alarmed by the descriptive passages that Danticat uses to describe Haiti and the harsh conditions Haitians encounter in Krik? Krak! From the very beginning, the prevalence of injustice is blatent, when the Haitian narrator describes his passage over the sea. It almost seems as if a person on a slave trade ship is telling the story. I was shocked at the way the passengers of the boat had to defecate on the boat and how there was barely anything to eat or drink for days upon days. Celiene's jump into the water after the death of her baby shows the desperation that was ubiquitous on the boat. The fact that these narrators are unnamed allows for this story to apply to any Haitian, because a number of Haitians (or any other race, for that matter) went through similiar situations involving ill treatment.

In Port-au- Prince, rape and murder is an everyday occurance. Horrific instances, such as the soldiers forcing mothers and sons or daughters and fathers to sleep with eachother paint a picture of the injustice that occurs frequently throughout the novel. In "Children of the Sea", the tragic incident of the mother bringing home her son's head immediately calls attention to the overwhelming amount of violence in Port-au-Prince following the coup. In "Nineteen Thirty Seven", the prison in which Josephine's mother is held (for no legitimate reason) is described as a hellish place of torture. Josephine says "By the end of the 1915 occupation, the city really knew how to hold human beings trapped in cages" (Danticat 35). At the prison, Josephine's mother has her head shaved, is fed bread and water, and is doused with freezing water before bed so that she will not have the energy to escape, among many other forms of inhumane treatement. Ville Rose is also described as a place full of dejection and poverty, although violence seems to be far less prevalent there. In this city, some women are forced to be prostitutes, such as the woman in "Night Women", who has to sell her body in order to provide for her and her young son. In " Between the Pool and the Gardenia's", Marie finds a dead baby on the streets of Port- au-Prince tries to convince herself that is alive, due to her intense desire of child companionship. She says, " When I had just come to the city, I saw on Madame's television that a lot of poor city women throw out their babies because they can't afford to feed them" (Danticat 92). This particular description of the city is only one of the many examples that illustrates the prevalence of poverty and violence that is rampant throughout Port- au-Prince in the novel Krik? Krak!

Danticat allows us to enter into the chaos that is a part of cities such as Port-au- Prince and Ville Rose, so that we may understand the injustice that Haiti has had to overcome. Her descriptive passages and characters draw us into the story of Haiti's violent past. We are left wondering why anyone should have to undergo the severely violent treatment that these people have to experience. She gives us a close- up view of what it would be like to suffer through generations of injustice within various cities, and this ultimately made me appreciate my surroundings a bit more. In Kolvenbach's "The Service of Faith and the Promotion of Justice in American Jesuit Higher Education, he states that, " Only a substantive justice can bring about the kinds of structural and attitudinal changes that are needed to uproot those sinful oppresive injustices that are a scandal against humanity and God" (Kolvenbach 27). This quote applies perfectly to the call of those reading Krik? Krak! Danticat is calling the reader to be aware of the injustice that is a horrific reality on this earth. In my opinion, she is working towards creating an attitudinal change in her readers. Danticat uses the cities of Haiti as a lesson and a cry for change. Her powerful language can persuade almost any reader to awake from their apathy. Kolvenbach's speech on the power of justice in education helps to support the basis for Danticat's novel. They are both stressing the need for equality and dignity found through justice-virtues of which many cities are void.

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.


Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Port-au-Prince and Ville Rose in Krik? Krak!

The Haitian cities that Edwidge Danticat describes in her stories, Ville Rose and Port-au-Prince, are unlike the cities that most of us have experienced. While Ville Rose seems to be the least evil of the two cities, both are afflicted with pain and strife. Danticat does not go into a lot of detail about the physical description of the cities, but the reader is made aware that the cities are poor and that most of their inhabitants live in squalor. For example, the house of Guy and Lili is not described in great detail, but the reader learns that Lili collects water in old gasoline cans and her family eats from a “trio of half gourds on the clay floor” (53). Like the narrator of “Night Women,” Guy and Lili eat and sleep in the same room, and their children also sleep in the same room. The cities depicted in Krik? Krak! are destitute. There is a wealth gap in Port-au-Prince, just as there is in Lagos, as described by Chinua Achebe in No Longer at Ease. In Achebe’s book, villagers starve while the government builds “ministers’ houses at a cost of thirty-five thousand each” (Achebe 61). Sam Okoli has a radiogram that he purchased for “two-seventy-five pounds” (62), while Obi’s parents subsist on a two pound per month income (Achebe 50). A similar social gap exists in Port-au-Prince and Ville Rose. In “Between the Pool and the Gardenias,” Monsieur and Madame have a house with a pool, paintings and a large television system (96), while most villagers live as Guy and Lili do. However, the government workers do not seem as affluent in Haiti as they are in Lagos. The soldiers in “The Missing Peace” do not seem as though they are particularly wealthy, although they are probably better fed than the villagers. Whereas the government in Lagos maintains power because of its financial dominance, the government in Port-au-Prince maintains power through sheer brutality and terror. Port-au-Prince is disturbed by violence and coups; soldiers torture and humiliate the Haitian people mercilessly. In the opening story, “Children of the Sea,” soldiers make sons sleep with their mothers and make fathers sleep with their daughters (12). The soldiers’ methods of torture are sickening and completely devoid of any regard or value for human life. The soldiers torture Madan Roger because she will not tell them anything about her dead son’s associates in the youth federation. The narrator recalls, “you can hear the guns coming down on her head. It sounds like they are cracking all the bones in her body” (16). In “Nineteen Thirty-Seven,” the narrator recalls, “The policemen made no efforts to stop the mob that was beating my mother. ‘Lougarou, witch, criminal!’ they shouted” (39). The violence perpetrated by the soldiers arouses violence between citizens as they look for scapegoats for their suffering.


The physical atrocities suffered by the Haitian soldiers are horrific, but the damage inflicted upon human dignity and spirit is even more reprehensible. In “Children of the Sea,” Madam Roger shouts, “I’m dead already. You have already done the worst to me that you can do. You have killed my soul” (16). The narrator’s mother says that “hope is the biggest weapon of all to use against us” (19). The government breaks its people down spiritually by arousing their hope and then quickly and violently crushing it. Without hope, the people have nothing to live for. They cannot provide for their children. In Port-au-Prince, “they throw out whole children…anywhere: on doorsteps, in garbage cans, at gas pumps, sidewalks” (93) and Papa in “Children of the Sea” feels helpless because he cannot protect his family. In “A Wall of Fire Rising,” Guy remembers his father as a man “struggling…a man I would never want to be” (75). There is no hope for Guy to be anything else but a struggling man so he commits suicide rather than live with that hopelessness. The Haitian cities are cities in that they are groups of people coexisting, but they are not civilizations as we think of the term in America. The narrator of “Children of the Sea,” writes that her family will “drive quick and fast until we find civilization” (13). Civilization implies something beyond people living together. It suggests that the people are able to make progress and that they are able to hope and look to the future. It implies that people are civilized, that they treat one another as human beings. Civilization as we know it does not exist in the cities of Krik? Krak!


The circumstances existing in the Haitian cities are almost unintelligible to me. In “The Missing Peace,” Emilie says, “I became a woman last night…I lost my mother and all my other dreams” (121). In American society, becoming a man or woman involves the seeking and fulfillment of dream—not their destruction. It is not until the book reaches New York in “New York Day Women” that the city becomes something recognizable again. Another story set in New York City is “Caroline’s Wedding.” The mother in this story struggles to hold onto her Haitian identity, encouraging her daughters to marry Haitians. Haitians in Port-au-Prince struggle against oppression by a brutal government; immigrant Haitians struggle against oppression by dominant American society. The oppression in New York is different from the oppression in Haiti. There are threats to one’s heritage, but there are no threats to one’s life. People in Port-au-Prince face starvation, torture, and stagnation, while people in New York are encouraged to grow and dream—even if this same growth threatens to obscure individual ethnic identity.