Of Thee, We Write (but who is thee? who are we?)

The three panelists in the ‘Of Thee, We Write’ made me want to go and read some of their works. Each person gave a little background on themselves and their writing, and then read out samples. I loved how Naomi Ayala had poems translated between Spainsh and English, as well as a poem that used a combination of the languages. IN a similar way, Abdourahman Waberi still writes in his native tongue, French (from Dijibouti).

At first I found that it was hard to relate the three panelists and their common themes of immigration to our Victorian literature class. Then I focused in on the emotions and feelings it created within the different characters and narrators. Naomi started with saying much of our nation is anti-immigration, and that the cause to this is terrorism. People are frightened and wary of the unknown, and people that come from other nations fall into this unfamiliar category for many. This notion is similar to some characters in Middlemarch, albeit on a much less severe and powerful scale as terrorism. The doctors think Lydgate’s different ways of practicing medicine are improper. There are constant tensions between people of different towns, and within different classes in the same town. I also thought of The Moonstone, all of them were wary of the three Indian men. Being from an entirely different continent, they could not be trusted, and were subject to poor treatment because of this.

How we are defined was brought up by Dinaw Mengestu (the second panelist). He said that we are defined by choice, yet also gave examples of when it was based on one’s situation. He explained how he was ‘African’ when he stood up when his grandmother entered the room, but how he was then ‘American’ when he talked in full sentences. Some characters in Middlemarch are defined by choice, and their actions show this; Dorothea choosing not to marry Will Ladislaw, Raffles choosing to blackmail Mr. Bulstrode. Yet other characters’ actions are a trait within them, and they do not make the conscience decision to behave as they do, such as Rosamond needing an excessive amount of fine jewelry, furniture etc.

Dinaw also noted the use of the word ‘We’; how sometimes it is inclusive, yet other times it is exclusive. When part of the group, the ‘we’ is inclusive and welcoming, yet to those outside (his example, Americans saying ‘we Americans’, immigrants excluded) it makes it even harder to embrace. When the narrator in Middlemarch uses ‘we’, is it including us as readers? As other characters within the novel? Or is it highlighting the contrast of being excluded for the majority of the novel?

In answering a question asked by one of the students there, the panelists tried to explain the connection between social and artistic writings. Each had a varied response, Dinaw’s was the most understandable. He said that if one wrote fully didactically, it was not art. When writing on the other extreme, it is only art. What he tries to find a balance of is writing works that are considered art; yet also create social change and progress. This reminded me of some of the smaller pieces we have read for this course, especially ‘The light brigade’ by Tennyson. It is art, yet it also delves deeper into social issues.


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