Thursday

The Future is Dead: The Absence of Hope in Things Fall Apart and “Death Constant Beyond Love”

 

There comes a time when the years behind number more than the years ahead. Were goals accomplished? Was fame found? Or did it all wither away? Is there anything left to look forward to? This is the circumstance that Okonkwo in Things Fall Apart and Senator Onésimo Sánchez in “Death Constant Beyond Love find themselves in. Their youth has passed them. They are both staring at the end of their lives. For Okonkwo this end is figuratively seen as the end of his society's way of life where he has no place in the adopted way of life anymore. For Sánchez, his impending death is literal as he has been diagnosed with only months left to live. With their lost futures, everything Okonkwo and Sánchez worked for in their youth, their fine reputations and standings in their communities has become unattainable. The theme of youth can be found in both Things Fall Apart and Death Constant Beyond Love as Okonkwo and Senator Sánchez feel that they have no future so there is nothing left to hope for, and that any of the respect they once held no longer has any meaning for them at the end of their lives.



The very first line of Things Fall Apart states, "Okonkwo was clearly cut out for great things" (Achebe 5.10). That is the view Okonkwo holds of himself. In the village of Umuofia, living to an old age was respected, but achieving great feats, wealth, and skill in battle was revered. Okonkwo had all of these things and was revered across all the nine villages. (Achebe 5.10). He is already highly respected and wants to continue that upward trend in his life.

Because Okonkwo was greatly respected, he was given charge over a boy, Ikemefuna, who was given to their village as a sacrifice from another village in an exchange to keep the peace. Okonkwo raises him with his own son, Nwoye, for many years. It was a great honor but came at a cost to his own standing in his son's eyes and how his son would view their village traditions at a later time when it counted. The day comes when the village decides it is time to kill Ikemefuna. An elder of the village warns Okonkwo to "not bear a hand in his death" (Achebe 5.10), yet fearing that his people would think him weak, Okonkwo makes the final blow in Ikemefuna's death (Achebe 5.10). That act marks the beginning of his own son's path away from the traditions of their people. In an ironic twist of fate, at the funeral of the elder who had warned him about killing Ikemefuna, Okonkwo accidentally kills the deceased elder's teenage son when Okonkwo's gun explodes and shrapnel fatally hits the teenager. Even though the death was accidental, it was viewed as an offense against the earth goddess, which required Okonkwo with his family to leave the land for seven years. To cleanse the land from the offense, his houses were burned, and animals killed.

Throughout those seven years of exile, Okonkwo accumulated more wealth and dreamed and planned to go back to his village triumphant; "He was determined that his return should be marked by his people. He would return with a flourish, and regain the seven wasted years" (Achebe 5.12). However, the village had undergone a transformation during his time away. To his mind, the Christian "church had come and led many astray" (Achebe 5.12). The church claimed that their old traditions were wrong. It was to be expected that outcasts and villagers of lower stations might flock to it, but worthy and high esteemed men of the village had also joined it. Men "who had taken two titles, and who like a madman had cut the anklet of his titles and cast it away to join the Christians" (Achebe 5.12). Everything has changed and all the goals Okonkwo has set to gain respect for himself were futile.

As a warrior, Okonkwo falls back on the course of fighting back and driving the white men out. However, his friend explains that since "our own men and our sons have joined the ranks of the stranger. They have joined his religion and they help to uphold his government" (Achebe 5.12). At this point Okonkwo's own son, Nwoye, has given up the traditions of his father and joined the Christians. If they did uprise to drive the foreigners out, their own people who have been converted would send for more soldiers. "How do you think we can fight when our own brothers have turned against us?" (Achebe 5.12).

Everything that Okonkwo spent his entire youth yearning for and striving for have become unimportant. Everything that was once respectable has become something that is against the law. Mighty men are now put in prison for adhering to their traditions and made to work at menial tasks like fetching wood. "Some of these prisoners were men of title who should be above such mean occupation" (Achebe 5.12). The white men convinced their people that their customs are wrong so they cannot "fight when our own brothers have turned against us" (Achebe 5.12). Okonkwo mourns that "our clan can no longer act like one. He has put a knife on the things that held us together and we have fallen apart" (Achebe 5.12). There is nothing left for Okonkwo, no respect or esteem to gain. Everything he has worked for has come to nothing. There is no longer a place for him in this new future. His final act is an unthinkable abomination against the traditions he had once held dear in the taking of his own life. Compared to Okonkwo’s journey of seeking fame and titles of respect to an absence of hope for a good future, Senator Onésimo Sánchez takes a similar downward spiral to having no future at all to hope for.

Death Constant Beyond Love explores the theme of youth as the dying Senator Onésimo Sánchez realizes that there is nothing left of his life, no prize to seek, nothing worthwhile to look forward to. This explores the theme of youth as Senator Sanchez, who knows his time is up, moves from seeing the world around him from the viewpoint of what can be gained in his career to seeing things as an average person. It also allows him the freedom to speak plainly and do things that he never would have before.

During a campaign tour of the dying town Rosal del Virrey, Senator Sánchez, who only has a few months to live, sees things as they really are. He knows that like himself, the town will never flourish. He helps a few people he wouldn't have bothered with previously, speaks plainly to the "important" people of town, and allows himself to have an affair with a young woman, ruining his political legacy when he dies. Márquez frames the story with a mixture of pragmatic actions that revolve around deep fears. For example, Sánchez takes an ordinary nap, but is plagues with thoughts of his death. This sentence captures pragmatism blended with fear beautifully: “Then he put the electric fan close to the hammock and stretched out naked for fifteen minutes in the shadow of the rose, making a great effort at mental distraction so as not to think about death while he dozed” (Márquez 3.13). These types of sentences are sprinkled throughout the story, reminding us of the senator’s impending death, while he goes about his business, trying to pretend there is nothing to fear, which makes it stand out all the more. This shows that Sánchez really has nothing left to hope for as he has no future for himself and doesn’t really seem to care about what he is leaving behind.

The senator knows he is dying so there isn't anything left for him to care about. He knows he'll win the political race, but it is pointless since he won't be around. He also doesn't care about helping people while he can or leaving behind something good as a legacy in his last few months. In his speech he says, "'We are here for the purpose of defeating nature,' he began against all his convictions" (Márquez 3.13). He has no hope for anything good. "The erosion of death was much more pernicious than he had supposed, for as he went up onto the platform he felt a strange disdain for those who were fighting for the good luck to shake his hand" (Márquez 3.13). Although he seems indifferent, his impending doom also gives him the freedom to do things that normally wouldn't be in his best political favor and the liberty to say things that he normally would hold back on.

When the senator makes his rounds after the speech to meet the people of the village, he normally would find "some way to console everybody without having to do them any difficult favors" (Márquez 3.14). There is a woman he meets. She says if he really wants to help that he will provide a donkey so that it can carry the burden of water from the well to her home as she no longer as a husband to help her. Because at the state of mind he is in, he decides on the spot to get her a donkey and carries through with his promise that same day. "A short while later an aide of his brought a good pack donkey to the woman's house and on the rump it had a campaign slogan written in indelible paint so that no one would ever forget that it was a gift from the senator" (Márquez 3.14). This is possibly a hint that he does want to be remembered well in at least a small way, although he isn’t making any large contributions for a lasting impression at the end of his life. Later that evening when he has a meeting with the people of importance of the town, he is so tired of it all, that he veers from his normal platitudes and speaks plainly to them, saying, "my reelection is a better piece of business for you than it is for me, because I'm fed up with stagnant water and Indian sweat, while you people, on the other hand, make your living from it" (Márquez 3.14). In the height of his career, before he knew his life was going to be so short, he most likely would have told them what they wanted to hear, rather than the truth as he was able to see it. This breakdown of his hope for himself is seen with his interactions with Nelson Farina.

Nelson Farina had been trying to get a favor out of Senator Sánchez for years. Nelson noticed that his daughter, Farina, caught the senator's eye so he sent her to him that evening. She tells Sánchez she has come for her father. The senator is married and has never tarnished his reputation with a scandal, yet Farina's "beauty was even more demanding than his pain, and he resolved then that death had made his decision for him" (Márquez 3.15). This marks his final resolve on caring about the future he has left. However, Farina is wearing an iron chastity belt, which her father has the key to which he'll release once Sanchez provides him with a promise in writing that the senator will help him out with his predicament. At first the senator is angry, "then he closed his eyes in order to relax and he met himself in the darkness. Remember, he remembered, that whether it's you or someone else, it won't be long before you'll be dead and it won't be long before your name won't even be left" (Márquez 3.15). He reflects for a few moments and then lays aside what he normally would do and decides that it doesn't matter anymore. All hope is gone. He says to Farina that he'll grant her father's request.

Farina is ready to run to her father and get the key to her chastity belt, but the senator asks her to not worry about it just yet and to "sleep awhile with me. It's good to be with someone when you're so alone" (Márquez 3.15). This is a pivotal moment in his life as he is facing impending death. He finally allows himself to give into the fear that he has been facing all on his own. This begins an affair he has with Farina that within six months ruins his reputation and everything he had once worked so hard to achieve, yet his biggest regret upon his deathbed was that he would no longer be with Farina. Nothing else at that point mattered. Sánchez did have children that could carry on his legacy. He could have done something important to solidify the greatness of his political career, yet none of that mattered to him in his final days. In both Things Fall Apart and Death Constant Beyond Love the absence of hope wears both Okonkwo and Sánchez to the despair of nothing left for them.

Near the end of Okonkwo's and Sánchez's lives, these characters feel that they have nothing to hope in as the future is gone, which has made them do something which ruined their reputations that once meant so much to them. Okonkwo takes his own life which is an abomination to his clansman. They won't touch his corpse even to bury him. Senator Sánchez lived the last six months of his life having an affair that was "debased and repudiated because of the public scandal" (Márquez 3.15). The absence of hope for the future touches everyone at one point or another, whether that absence stems from the changing of society values in Okonkwo's case, or the stark realization that there will be no future as a person ages or is given an expiration date as shown by what Senator Sánchez faced. It's a universal condition that all humans will eventually have to come to terms with one way or another.


 

Works Cited

Achebe, Chinua. "Things Fall Apart." Modern World Literature. Soomo Learning, 2016, pp. 5.10-5.13.

Márquez, Gabriel García. “Death Constant Beyond Love.” Modern World Literature. Soomo Learning, 2016, pp. 3.13-3.15.

image: "Things Fall Apart, by Chinua Achebe" by elycefeliz is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

 

Wednesday

Learning Styles: A Guide for Success

 

Tatia Sanchez failed the same math course seven times, believing that she was hopelessly dumb in that subject. Until a teacher taught math in her style of learning and it all clicked into place. Unfortunately, like Tatia’s experience, this is an all too-common occurrence in our classrooms.  Students believe that they are simply too stupid in certain areas and just can’t learn. This belief can be remedied. Imagine if students beginning at Kindergarten were grouped into break-out sessions and taught in their strongest preference of visual, auditory, or kinesthetic learning. Students achieve stronger academic success when they are taught in their preferred learning style because they are able to focus more on the subject, they gain adaptability skills that will last a lifetime, and their self-esteem is improved. 

A student who is taught in their preferred learning style is able to focus on the subject instead of trying to wade through the method of how a subject is being taught. It takes that one extra distraction out of the equation that gets between the student and the subject. Take for example trying to learn a subject in a foreign language. A student would first have to decipher the words being said and all the foreign nuances of language rather than the subject. It works the same way when a student is taught in their dominant learning style. The student no longer has to decipher the “how” of what is being taught and can focus on the “what” that is being taught.  Diane Lamarche-Bisson, an educator and author, has worked with special needs children where she successfully implemented learning preference tools in her classrooms. She explains that a learning style is the way in which people best process information presented to them. “A learning style affects how we learn, how we solve problems, how we work, how we participate in different activities, how we react in a group, and how we relate to others around us" (Lamarche-Bisson 268). There are three primary learning styles. There are visual learners, those who prefer print and pictures; auditory learners, those who like to listen to as well as talk a subject out; and kinesthetic learners, which incorporates getting the entire body involved (Lamarche-Bisson 268). The kinesthetic learner will be the child who is moving about the room, likes noise, and needs to touch and handle everything.  Even the way a classroom is arranged will complement each style for better student focus. Some students need a space with limited noise and lighting, a quiet corner, while others need the opportunity to move around to become fully engaged (Lamarche-Bisson 268). When students are given the freedom, atmosphere, and encouragement to study in the way that works best for them, they are able to focus on the subject being taught without the distraction of deciphering how it is taught getting in the way. 

Learning how to adapt to each style gives students tools to be successful in any subject, even subjects they believe are difficult. This adaptability will last throughout a lifetime. The majority of people have a stronger preference for one learning style over the others. However, this does not mean that they cannot utilize other styles of learning. Depending on the subject, a more appropriate style might be called for. "The student should from time to time be encouraged to attempt to channel his abilities and strengths to the two remaining styles." (Lamarche-Bisson 268). "There is a practical importance to developing confidence in learning styles other than the preferred," Psychologists Chalisa Gadt-Johnson and Gary E. Price assert. Strengthening weaker preferences of learning should be encouraged (Gadt-Johnson & Price 581). Allowing students to "try-out" other learning styles will give children the confidence and adaptability to experiment with styles for different subjects. It has been found that this goes beyond Kindergarten through grade 12. The key is in arranging classrooms to provide resources for all preferences of styles available to students for greater experimenting and adaptability.  

Self-esteem improves when students realize that they can understand a subject. Lamarche-Bisson attests "levels of self-esteem and confidence will be raised. As the child matures, he will discern how he learns best and will be equipped to build a solid foundation on his strengths and develop strategies to improve his weaker areas” (268). When subjects are taught in a different manner from a child's strongest learning style, the student may not understand, feel discouragement and decide to give up. Through a study in 1997, Chalisa Gadt-Johnson and Gary E. Price note that "the particular learning style preferences of students have been found to have a strong impact on achievement" which breeds greater self-confidence (581). A dramatic example of this took place at The Forbury School in Dunedin, New Zealand, contrasting lack of self-esteem and behavior issues with significant changes after incorporating learning preferences. The environment was stressful, the students acted out with bullying. One teacher reported that the majority of her time she handled disruptions caused by anger and low self- confidence of the students.  Any work displayed was torn off the walls, the children "did not know how to handle praise" (Prashnig 1). After the school implemented the use of learning preferences, playing soft music, dimming the lights in certain spaces, and having areas dedicated to tactile learning, self-confidence improved the classroom behavior. The children have "greater respect for the school property, and the property and work efforts of others" (Prashnig 1). With greater self-esteem in the subjects they are being taught, students will be engaged and take responsibility in their education. 

The main issue with incorporating learning styles in the classroom is that some educators believe that there is little evidence to support that learning preferences work. Teachers already put in extra hours to plan their curriculum and adding another level of incorporating different learning preferences is too much to ask anyone to do.  However, teachers are not average. They are extraordinary human beings who will go the extra mile when they find something that works for their students. "Today's teachers are overworked and bombarded with guidelines from department heads and principals, school boards, state education departments, and educational organizations and associations"(Lamarche-Bisson 268). Is it fair to ask teachers to make extra lesson plans to cover each of the learning styles especially when there aren't many studies that prove it really has any effect? "In 2008, professor Hal Pashler and his associates ... noted that many of the existing studies didn’t really test for evidence of learning styles in the ideal way" Cognitive scientist Daniel Willingham explains (28). “If you want to test the verbalizer/visualizer distinction, it’s not enough to show that visualizers remember pictures better than verbalizers do. Maybe those people you categorize as visual learners simply have better memories overall" (Willingham 28). Both the types of learners and content would have to be examined to try and come up with an accurate study (Willingham 28). Yet teachers like Lamarche-Bisson and many others from the Creative Learning Centre have found that teaching children in their preferred styles have made a huge impact. An MIT instructor reported to the Creative Learning Centre that students "could learn and work on their own, in pairs or in a larger group. The learning was often self-guided, mostly student-centred and took place in their own time during the day; this was a chance for students who otherwise would have fallen through the cracks" (Prashnig 1). The techniques implemented showed drastic changes in the development of their students throughout many years of putting learning styles into practice.  

 Creating an atmosphere where learning styles are taught give students a greater chance to sharpen their focus on the subject without the distractions of trying to understand methods that aren't working for them. The ability to adapt any subject to another learning style that might work better will enhance learning in any environment throughout a person's lifetime. As seen at the Forbury School when self-confidence improves so will classroom behavior, which in turn, will promote greater academic success.  Stronger academic success can be achieved when students are taught in their strongest learning styles because students are better equipped to focus on the subject, instead of working through a foreign way their mind works; students will gain skills they can adapt to any subject or circumstance throughout their lives, and their self-esteem will grow.  


 

Works Cited

Lamarche-Bisson, Diane. “Learning Styles - What Are They? How Can They Help?” World and I, Sept. 2002 p. 268.  www.link.galegroup.com/doc/A98736431/OVIC?u=nhc_ main&sid=OVIC&xid=459958d0.

Gadt-Johnson, Chalisa., and Gary E. Price. “Comparing Students with High and Low Preferences for Tactile Learning.” Education, vol. 120, no. 3, 2000, p. 581. www.link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/A61691570/OVIC? u=nhc_main &sid =OVIC&xid=5c150547f.

Prashnig, Barbara. “Testimonials/Case Studies” Prashnig Style Solutions, 2018. www.creativelearningcentre.com/testimonials.html#quotes

Willingham, Daniel T. “Ask the Cognitive Scientist: Does Tailoring Instruction to ‘Learning Styles’ Help Students Learn?” American Educator, Summer 2018. p. 28. www.link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/A543900498/OVIC? u=nhu_main&sid=) VIC&xid=fdf856e4.

Sunday

Poetry: Eating Alone

 

Eating Alone

 - 1957-

I've pulled the last of the year's young onions.
The garden is bare now. The ground is cold,
brown and old. What is left of the day flames
in the maples at the corner of my
eye. I turn, a cardinal vanishes.
By the cellar door, I wash the onions,
then drink from the icy metal spigot.

Once, years back, I walked beside my father
among the windfall pears. I can't recall
our words. We may have strolled in silence. But
I still see him bend that way-left hand braced
on knee, creaky-to lift and hold to my
eye a rotten pear. In it, a hornet
spun crazily, glazed in slow, glistening juice.

It was my father I saw this morning
waving to me from the trees. I almost
called to him, until I came close enough
to see the shovel, leaning where I had
left it, in the flickering, deep green shade.

White rice steaming, almost done. Sweet green peas
fried in onions. Shrimp braised in sesame
oil and garlic. And my own loneliness.
What more could I, a young man, want.

 

I feel that Lee, as a converted Presbyterian minister, was attempting to connect with the possibility that the people in our lives who have died are really just out of sight in another existence or plain of spirits. I relate to this poem because I have had moments where I felt the presence of family members who have passed so strongly that I have turned my head and felt like I just missed the sight of them. This theme is presented though symbols and personification.

Lee uses the symbols of flame and the cardinal in this line, “What is left of the day flames in the maples at the corner of my eye. I turn, a cardinal vanishes” (970). Cardinals, in many religions represent loved ones who have died. In Christianity, red cardinals are a symbol of the fire of the living spirit. Lee used the word “flames” just before the almost sighting of the cardinal to great symbolic effect. Even though the word “red” isn’t present, it is inferred by the flames and the fact that male cardinals (male, like his father) are inherently red. Pair that with the “flickering, deep green shade” (Lee 971) near the end of the poem after he thought he saw his father, but realized it was a shovel instead. Green is the symbol of renewal in nature, and of resurrection and rebirth in Christianity. The symbolism is enhanced by the inferred red in flames, while the shaded green flickers like those loved ones in the spirit realm or the hint of Lee’s father leaning against the tree might flicker just out of sight.   

Personification is used sparsely in one instant when Lee thought he saw his father, to realize moments later that it was “the shovel, leaning where I had left it” (971). Using the element of  personification only once made it stand out that much more in the way that a thing, the shovel, for the briefest of seconds in the flickering light looked like his deceased father, leaning, almost in the way he had mentioned his father earlier while alive with “left hand braced on knee, creaky” (Lee 970). The similarities of the poses makes the personification of the shovel realistic that it could have been mistaken for his father. Even though the shovel wasn’t his father, it echoes the theme that it could have been because he is there, renewed, flickering out of our view, but in the realm of spirits that is so very close. 

The use of personification felt very real to me as I’ve had the same things happen to me, glimpsing what I wanted, but in reality was something else but looked so familiar simply by the way the item was positioned or “leaning”. Seeing the shovel momentarily as his father, made the poem more meaningful to me on a personal level. The symbols employed also enhanced the meaning of the poem, realizing that the cardinal barely glimpsed is symbolic of loved ones gone, but who are really only just out of our mortal sight is also deeply effective, even as daily life goes on as we prepare meals, drink the icy jolting water, and eat our meal in lonely quiet. Because even though our dead are near, they still aren’t with us, and are missed deeply.

 

Work Cited

Lee, Li-Young. “Eating Alone.” Literature: The Human Experience, edited by Richard Abcarian, et al., Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2016, pp. 970-1

poem borrowed from The Poestry Foundation