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Running but Ruminating

November 29th, 2011 at 10:58 pm

I'm too busy to blog much, but have been thinking about a lot of things that will need to be sorted out once things settle down.
Some of them are how to stick to a better exercise routine, how to reorganize my office, whether I'll ever teach another online class after the headaches of this one, where wine belongs in my budget, and other mostly minor things.

But I had a very contentious class last night, and I've been thinking about it a lot. We read three Flannery O'Connor stories, all of which contain the "n-word."
My evening class is primarily African-American women, and we had a very difficult time discussing how a writer can have a character use that word, whether we should read those stories, the problems of conflating the author with the character, etc. In each of these stories the character that use the "n-word" is despicable and flawed. O'Connor punishes them: one character is shot, another is shown up as a pretentious buffoon, and another reduced to thinking of herself as a warthog (no, I'm not kidding) from the lower regions. But still, the legacy of that word troubles and haunts. We literally spent hours discussing it, at times way too vehemently.

I love these stories, but need to find a better way to communicate and teach them. Not financial news at all, but since they pay me to do this, perhaps it has a financial component. I wish I could think and work at the same time...

3 Responses to “Running but Ruminating”

  1. PauletteGoddard Says:

    Historical revisionism usually rears up when ethnic and racial slurs in literature of bygone eras are read in this current age. It seems to me that the texts where the really ignorant, and as you say "despicable and flawed" use the words are the ones challenged -- think Mark Twain's _Adventures of Huckleberry Finn_, Aldous Huxley's _Brave New World_ (in our school district a Native American demanded that teachers be trained to sensitively explain to the class the use of the word 'savage,' even though it did not apply to Native Americans in the book), and now this.
    I finished Evelyn Waugh's _Handful of Dust_ last week and the underscore of British upper-class savagery was delivered with use of racial slurs that went out with Archie Bunker.
    Is the 'N-word' used in black entertainment or in urban male youth culture? Is the 'N-word' used in a great American anti-racist novel to indicate an ignorant, casual acceptance of dehumanizing slurs in a backwater, rural part of the country? Did the author of _Huckleberry Finn_ write: "The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter it's the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning?"

  2. My English Castle Says:

    Ah Paulette--you're so right. We talked about Alice Walker novels and other poems where people use that word. But how does an American Southern writer show bigotry in the 1950s without using it? I'm just not sure. Oooh--I love A Handful of Dust--but I'm not sure I'd like to sit next to Waugh! Hard Cheese for Tony indeed. So--any sympathy for Brenda? Not me.

  3. PauletteGoddard Says:

    I do remember an O'Connor short story where a young man's obese and clueless mother says "oh look at the cute pickaninny" as she disembarks a bus.

    I better work on my time machine so I can go to 2111 and learn what words won't be acceptable so I don't use the words that do not yet have negative connotations, and be thought of decades later as ignorant and churlish.

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