Thursday, February 28, 2013

How Actions Define Us

Dr. Frankenstein, in Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, led quite a different life than the characters depicted in “Theology” by Paul Laurence Dunbar and “Tableau” by Countee Cullen as well as the young student presenters from Wide Angle Youth Media (WAYM) at the Social Justice lecture presented by CCSJ. While the majority of these people were met with much adversity throughout their life, Dr. Frankenstein had nearly everything handed to him on a silver platter as he grew up. He did not necessarily take his privilege for granted, but his privilege, or more appropriately, his lack of great struggle until the death of his mother, prohibited him from making decisions in the same way as Dunbar and Cullen’s characters did as well as the students from WAYM. You would never guess that Dr. Frankenstein came from the same world as the others. Tragedy is inevitable in life and certainly affects us all, but the age at which you experience such life altering events can greatly affect who or what you grow into; these pieces of literature and real life experiences accurately depict how misfortune changes us, for better or worse.

Dunbar describes his justification of heaven and hell through people he has met in his life; his experiences throughout his life serve as justification for his way of thought. He decides that there must be a heaven, because he can feel it in his soul, and he decides that there is a hell because of people he has met who have nowhere else to go. He confirms his assertions through his experiences in life. Likewise, Cullen analyzes how adversity has left two friends untouchable by hatred and discrimination. It is implied that they have been through so much discontent that they don’t feel the eyes peering from “lowered blinds” that burn in the back of their heads (Cullen, line 5). He compares these two courageous young men to thunder that booms before lightening and clears a path for the brilliance that is to follow. These characters have allowed their friendship to grow out of the hatred harbored by those around them, so much so that they “In unison can walk” proudly (Cullen, line 8).

Although nearly seven decades have passed since Cullen lived to tell such stories through poetry, such suffering is still faced on a day to day basis by young, urban youth throughout America, but not all of these children let it get the best of them. Da’el, a fifteen year old, explained her struggle to overcome misfortune she was born into through video. WAYM provides a place were “at risk” teens and pre-teens can seek refuge and find an outlet to triumph over their adversaries. While Baltimore City and Maryland State legislation often works against them, they still fight back, just as the two boys did in Cullen’s “Tableau.” While, Da’el and her fellow WAYM classmates understand that “the voices of young people do not get the respect they deserve” they do not stand idly by; they work to change their predicament, as well as the predicament of those around them. These students exhibited passion and have clearly grown during their time as participants in WAYM. WAYM offers a place where the can channel their passion and learn to overcome the negative things in their life and grow into productive adults with dreams and goals; therefore they have reason stay off the streets and creative a better future for themselves. They have learned to stand up to adversity, not to run away from it or try to erase it.

Dr. Frankenstein did not face the adversity that these teens have until he was seventeen. This lack of life experience kept him sheltered and allowed him to view the world through a rose colored glass until the point of his mother’s death. Getting knocked down is the most important step when learning to stand up, and Dr. Frankenstein missed that opportunity with his silver spoon in his hand. He began to see the world through a broken glass and it greatly skewed his view of the world. The tragic loss of his mother’s life led to a distance with his father and began to bring other insecurities in his life to surface. To have your life be so drastically changed so quickly is not an easy burden to bare, it is no wonder that Dr. Frankenstein turned to science to look for a way to prevent something that can cause so much pain. He hoped to “renew life where death had apparently devoted the body to corruption” because he did not know of any other way to deal with his feelings and hardships (Shelley, Page 27). He had no other experiences to learn from so he had to create a way to handle strife.

The students at WAYM, the two boys depicted in Cullen’s poem and the assumed discomfort in the life of Dunbar leads to the belief that these people are more equipped to handle painful news and the harsh realities of life. Because they have faced struggles their whole life, they have been made stronger and are prepared for further disappointed and struggle in the future whereas Dr. Frankenstein was shocked by the fact that something horrific could happen and he reacted brashly to this realization, trying to reverse it. Dr. Frankenstein had not yet met the understanding that you cannot control everything in life, but that you can control how you react to life. The absence of misfortune in his childhood led him to believe that bad things couldn’t happen to him and left him to change his way of thinking at the first sign of struggle. Unlike Dr. Frankenstein, the other characters of the Cullen and Dunbar poems and the students at WAYM see these misfortunes as ways to learn and grow and become better. Although we will never be able to control all aspects of our lives, we will always have control over our reactions in such an uncertain world.

Mary Shelley, Frankenstein
Paul Laurence Dunbar “Theology”    
Countee Cullen “Tableau”
Wide Angle Youth Media, WAYM, Baltimore, MD.

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