Wednesday, March 16, 2005


I taught my evening lit class tonight, trying to do justice, in under three hours, to both Flannery O'Connor and Sandra Cisneros.

I like night classes, generally. The students are usually more mature; most of them have full-time jobs and families, and have learned to prioritize their time, though I do occasionally have to threaten them with a quiz if they don't read the assignments. Also, many of them have greater insight into the complexities of poetry, fiction and drama--because they usually have more real-world experience than 18-year-olds.

But, back to O'Connor and Cisneros. Both come from Catholicism, though their approaches to religion seem polar opposites. One cannot read an O'Connor story without being acutely aware of her view that, without faith, one is doomed. Without faith, one lacks a core. Her characters, even the protagonists (the people we're supposed to like) are reprehensible. The only characters in her stories who seem to have belief systems are the "bad" guys--Manley Pointer in "Good Country People", The Misfit in "A Good Man is Hard to Find", and Mr. Shiftlet in "The Life You Save May Be Your Own." Her central characters are constantly being whacked on the head in an attempt to shock them into belief, but, each time I read her stories, I despair that they have learned their lessons.

Cisneros, on the other hand, deals with the constraints of Catholicism, especially on women. In "Woman Hollering Creek," Cleofilas is a victim of her macho, partriarchal, Catholic, Mexican heritage. She has little support from her brutal husband or her father and seven brothers. She gets help from two women, total strangers, who conspire to spirit her away. What Cleofilas finds is that women do have options--they can holler "like Tarzan," they can have jobs and buy their own pickup trucks. Cisneros seems to imply that faith doesn't help much, that we must make our own way, with or without it.

I always wish this particular class met more often; I have too much to say, too many questions to ask and not enough time. I hope, at least, that I communicate my love of language and literature--my sincere belief that our lives, hearts, minds are enriched by the insights that writers share with us.
Mr. Lester's peach trees bloom in stages, so I should be able to enjoy this swash of color for a few weeks. And, to borrow from a letter E. D. wrote to her brother Austin, "The peaches are very large--one side a rosy cheek, and the other a golden, and that peculiar coat of velvet and of down which makes a peach so beautiful." This is what I have to look forward to this summer--more time to read and Ed Lester's peaches!

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