EN 101 17
The works of Theodore Roethke, Sherman Alexie, Donald Hall, and Martin Luther King Jr. all represent the importance of self-identity. The common theme throughout the literary works also connected with this week’s event presented by Wide Angle Youth Media. Whether it is through relationships, technology, professions, or human rights, it is important to establish and stay true to our own identity. The works of the Wide Angle Youth Media are examples of the importance for our youth to create and establish their own identity in today’s world.
“My Papa’s Waltz” by Theodore Roethke exemplifies the importance of a person’s identity and the complexity of it. The poet’s work portrays the Papa’s identity as well as the son’s. The “waltz” appears to be more of a drunken stammer or romping than a graceful and elegant dance. The “whiskey on your [father’] breath” establishes the Papa’s identity as a drinker, but as the poem progresses more is revealed. The Papa’s hands are “caked hard by dirt” suggesting he has worked a hard day’s labor. The boy, who appears to be young based on his reference using “papa” and his height up to the “buckle” of the father’s belt, identity is also revealed. It would appear as if despite the turbulent relationship that is symbolized through the ungraceful “waltz”, he still loves his Papa. The young boy “hung on like death” to his father and “still [clings] to [Papa’s] shirt” when it is his bedtime, he does not want to let go. Despite having time beat on his head or the romping of the “waltz” the boy’s character is shown. Every little boy loves his father, it is what a child knows despite any faults, and that is exactly how the little boy is identified in the poem. Despite the troubles between his father and himself it is important to the young boy and his identity to “cling” to his father no matter what.
Sherman Alexie’s “Facebook Sonnet” represents the difficulty of maintaining self-identity in today’s age of society. In the age of “Let’s sign up, sign in, and confess/Here at the alter of loneliness” Alexie is addressing the problem. The sonnet alludes that the internet and “.coms” are praised on a alter like status instead of being yourself. Instead, “every stage of life is the same”, but now with the Internet and Facebook we can let “church.com become our church”. We hide behind the Internet for all things, and that Alexie’s sonnet mocks. The satire tone disapproves of the hiding of a person’s life and identity behind the Internet and Facebook. Instead of signing into a church lets go to church, let’s stop “undervaluing and unamending” our lives and show our true identity.
Donald Hall’s “To a Waterfowl” is a humorous yet almost sad account for people in today’s world and their identity. Hall writes about his job as a poet and the reactions he receives from the “women with hats like the rear ends of pink ducks” and the working husbands with their briefcases. He appears to mock the luncheons with the wives where he reads his poetry, and the businessmen on airplanes who joke they better watch their grammar. Hall goes on to discuss his motel nights, drinking alone watching mediocre movies, and it is somewhat sad. Hall mocks the husband’s and the wives’ but in a way he is also mocking himself. He asks, “And what about you? You, laughing?”, “Will you ever be old and dumb, like your creepy parents? Not you, not you, not you…”. The reader gets the feeling that the poet was once the one laughing, and now looking back has discovered he isn’t who he truly had aspired to be. The title alludes to another poem titled the “Waterfowl”, a successful, in-depth, highly discussed poem. Perhaps Hall had wanted to write poetry like the “Waterfowl” and finds himself instead what he once laughed at. The poem shows the importance of identity, who people wish to be and what they become. Also it shows the importance to establish an identity that is beyond being a typical wife or businessman, to do something to make you unique.
“Letter from a Birmingham Jail [King Jr.]” is an extremely influential piece of work about self-identity and the challenges faced in being true to your identity. As identified in the title, Martin Luther King Jr. writes his response in confinement. Martin Luther King is in Birmingham “because injustice is here”, and “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”. MLK did not just preach that he was a man fighting for justice but he showed it everyday, everywhere no matter where he was originally from. MLK made great strides to establish his identity as an advocator for non-violent action, for peaceful protests and to “carry the gospel of freedom” beyond his hometown. MLK did not stop there, he preached to his listeners to go the step beyond, to teach themselves to be able to “accept blows without retaliating”. Not only did MLK and his followers preach their identity and stand strong to it, but also they practiced it and labored to strengthen it everyday despite set backs, even violence. In an extremely passionate portion of the letter MLK writes, “So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be.” MLK is powerfully establishing and defending his identity, of extremists of love and justice, not hate and injustice. Martin Luther King Jr.’s letter is commanding and moving. The letter is an example of the importance of self-identity, and in MlK’s case, to defend his position and stand firm to it. To retaliate with peaceful protests and defend his identity and the goals of civil rights movement’s followers.
The campus event this week, Wide Angle Youth Media, connects to the theme of identity. The non-profit program helps middle school and high school students express themselves using the arts of photography and film. The short films created by the students such as “All Things Can Change”, “More Than Jobs”, and “Affording My Future” demonstrated the importance of their identity to each student. The films discussed hardships within family support, the problems of youth unemployment, and the tremendous burden of college. Each student, director, obviously put countless hours and research into their film’s production. These students are obviously driven and hardworking and are active in establishing their identity as students and accomplishing their dreams, not getting in trouble or failing school. Also the topics of their films showed a lot about their concerns and identities as well as what they wanted to do to actively make positive changes for their film’s topic. The Wide Angle Youth Media program displayed the importance of letting students embrace problems that they identify with and the opportunity to have a healthy and productive outlet.
The works of Theodore Roethke, Sherman Alexie, Donald Hall, and Martin Luther King Jr. all represent a common theme of identity that people struggle with everyday. Creating your own identity can be hard and even scary, to break away from the normal or step out from behind Facebook. But works such as Martin Luther King Jr’s letter show us the necessity to establish a person’s identity and to work hard to maintain it everyday. It is also important to express our identities, such as the students of the Wide Angle Youth Media program do. Our identities are something we should be proud of and work to maintain and be true to everyday.