Student Journal Entries
Patrick West is a student of Paul Lauter's at Trinity College. He granted permission for us to publish excerpts of his journal, as follows:
"A White Heron"
"A White Heron" is about the awakening of sorts of a girl named Sylvia, as she enters into a situation which marks the start of her life, in a way. Sylvia's rather lonely, yet self-reliant world is transformed after a boy enters her life and ultimately pushes her to embark on the greatest adventure of her life; and from that adventure, she arrives at the beginning of her new life. The simple things the reader can pick up from Sylvia and her actions are that she opts to choose her own self over the boy, not just in terms of revealing the whereabouts of the sought-after white heron, but also in possible relationship terms. By climbing to the top of the great tree by herself and refusing to give in to the boy, Sylvia is her own girl (or woman.) Jewett's character here, though the other characters may be unaware, has risen above them (specifically, the boy who thinks he can easily force her to reveal the secret of the bird) and is set for the future, even though the author never says so.
A Brand Plucked From the Fire
In these excerpts from her autobiography, Foote makes it clear that women were openly and casually prevented from playing the role God had supposedly intended for them. Citing scripture and her own personal experiences, Foote strongly makes a case that God's word is not being followed by men (pastors and followers alike), for God would never restrain anyone from attempting to serve the Lord. but beyond all the religious implications, these excerpts reflect the type of treatment all women were receiving as they began to infiltrate male-dominated areas of power or importance. Furthermore, Foote goes beyond the sexism and even elevates herself beyond mere practical religious practices, as she seems to foresee that God will punish the minister and others who do not allow women equality under the Lord. She states that she is not angry, but the feelings the reader gets say otherwise.
"In the Land of the Free"
Tracing the lives of two Chinese-Americans as they search for the American dream and lost their son along the way, "In the Land of the Free" clearly shows how immigrants, especially those with distinctive physical characteristics, encountered a wlecoming into the U. S. that was anything but hospitable. For the newly-arrived Lae Choo, the loss of her son due to immigration restrictions destroyed her life. but it is not until the end, after she had sacrificed all her material pieces of wealth to a capitalist, that the reader finds out that the son will never be truly hers, for he had rejected her and accepted another mother and culture, both of which were American. This piece, with consideration of the title, too, reflects the fake promises and dreams that accompanied new Americans, for it is not easy to be "free."
"The Problem of Old Harjo"
The idea of the great white savior believing she can somehow better the life of an Indian is the basis for "The Problem of Old Harjo." What develops is the Indian, Harjo, innocently disturbs the perfect world of the religion of Miss Evans, for Harjo is not as malleable as Miss Evans would like him to be. Harjo wants both the new religion and also to retain his Indian customs, and neither side will give in to the other. Miss Evans gets caught between the strong, yet wanting Harjo and the stubborn and uncaring character of Mrs. Powell, who seems to represent white religion in general. "The Problem of Old Harjo" is strong commentary, not only in the satirical title, but also in the way Oskison finishes the piece: "And meanwhile, what?" It is as if Oskison is asking what happens to all the other Indians as they are persuaded or tricked to the white religion while Miss Evans wastes her life on the "problem of Old Harjo."
Samantha Among the Brethren
In this piece, Holley relays the type of thinking and rationale both men and women used when discussing gender roles/rights in the late 19th Century. With her husband Josiah unknowingly playing the role of the bull-headed man who has firm, if not obviously faulty, beliefs concerning the role of women in his church and state, Holley is able to effectively show what types of arguments and forms of ignorance women had to encounter if they were to even try to begin to question the male-dominated world they lived in. By using the first-person narrative, Holley successfully places the reader on her side, for the reader can see not only what Holley feels, but also what she perceives about her husband, in that the husband is seemingly unaware of the perceptions and intelligence his wife possesses, therefore making him look even more ignorant. But Holley's message comes through loud and clear, and there is no mistaking the effectiveness of it.
A story full of symbols and hard-to-place forces, "Circumstance" seems to be an odd commentary on the female reliance on males, and, in this case, the wife's reliance on the husband. Yet, the story also is a strong commentary on the effective individualism of the woman, for the main character is able to survive and persevere due to her own natural and personal strengths, including singing and hope. And even though it is the husband who ultimately comes to her rescue by killing the beast who had taken her, the feeling that both sexes maintain a high level of strength and self-reliance still exists. Spofford seems to relay the idea that women far too often are victims of circumstance and are then seen as inferior after a male gives the impression of having rescued or saved the woman from that circumstance. Women are caught in a trap, Spofford seems to say, created and then ended by men.