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LIT 6394: Literature of Place: Florida


Class 13: Animals -- Speciesism, Sexism, Racism


Reading Assignment:

    Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God, plus foreword by Danticat and afterword by Gates
    Mules and Men Foreword and Introduction, plus chapters 6 and 7 (see course docs)
    From Animals and Women: Introduction by Josephine Donovan and Carol J. Adams, and Susanne Keppler's "Speciesism, Racism, Nationalism, ...or the Power of Scientific Subjectivity" pp. 320-352 (in course docs)

    Post #12

Class Objectives:

    Discuss Their Eyes Were Watching God and Mules and Men
    Discuss connections between speciesism and sexism and racism
    Student Presentation: Jennifer Yirinek and Mike Ruso

Notes and Discussion Questions:

The goals for this class are divergent and may not hang together well. Zora Neale Hurston's work constructs a Florida inhabited by fully realized African-American cahracters, and the texts offer us an opportunity to consider the ways in which race and sex construct ideas of place. The works also take up the question of human-animal relations and offer us examples of non-dominating incorporation of animals in human society

The essay I've chosen for this week gives us a way to understand speciesism, sexism and racism as interlocking oppressions, and so it may provide a way for us to connect these two discussions. Then again, it may not.


Their Eyes Were Watching God is our main piece for consideration this week.

Note the way the story constructs place and place in Florida in particular. What role does storytelling play in the construction of place?

In Danticat's foreword, she emphasizes her sense of pride that Hurston wrote this novel in seven weeks in Haiti. Given our understanding of the role of place in the construction and dissemination of literature, how significant is this?

How does the "place making imagination" operate in this novel?

Danticat: "Like all individual thinkers, Janie Crawford pays the price of exclusion for nonconformity, much like Hurston herself, who was accused of stereotyping the people she loved when she perhaps simply listened to them much more closely than others, and sought to reclaim and reclassify their voices" (xv). Consider this nonconformity in terms of being in-place or being out-of-place. How do gender scripts or racial scripts determine place in the novel and how does Janie and/or Hurston challenge this?

How does leaving her place (and returning) initiate at different times in the novel Janie's growth as a human being? Compare this in the end to her pity for the women who gossip about her on the porch.

How is Florida represented in terms of different cultural heritages? (Native Americans, Carribeans, African-Americans, European Whites?) Different classes?

How is the hurricane represented in the novel?

In his Introduction to Place, Cresswell reviews the work of Kay Anderson on the construction of Chinatown in Vancouver. "Anderson's argument is that these places cannot simply be read as symbols of essential Chineseness but rather that such places are ideologically constructed as places of difference." She traces the history of discourses explaining the presence of these groups in place, realizing that their location and its socio-economic implications are part of a political history. Can you apply these ideas to the construction of the historical place of Eatonville? To the literary representation of Eatonville? How does geography of place also have cultural implications? Where are these groups of people located? (Don't forget to consult a map.)

Consider Nanny's statement to Janie that the "nigger woman is de mule of de world." What are the implications of this phrase? What does Nanny mean and how does Janie interpret it? What might it suggest about the ways in which racism, sexism and speciesism overlap? Does it function as a theme for the novel?

Examine the antics around the mule that Janie eventually takes on as her pet. How does this community respond to the animal? What stands out about Janie's response?

What other events in the novel involve human-animal contact? Examine, for instance, what happens to Tea-Cake when he is bit by a rabid dog during the hurricane. What might the story suggest about the behaviors of animals and humans?

In Mules and Men chapters 6 and 7 deal with human-animal stories. How do you understand these stories? Gates sees this collection as evidence of Hurston's skill at conveying the black idiom. How does that in turn construct place through language?

Gates: "The myths she describes so accurately are in fact 'alternative modes for perceiving reality,' and never just condescending depictions of the quaint" (202). How important is truth in these stories? What might "truth" mean in these stories?

Gates suggests a huge divide in the racial ideology of the leading men of the Harlem Renaissance (Hughes and Wright) and Hurston herself. Rather than see "that racism had reduced black people to mere ciphers, to beings who only react to an omnipresent racial oppression, whose culture is 'deprived' where different, and whose psyches are in the main 'pathological'," Hurston "thought this idea degrading, its propagation a trap, and railed against it" (199). What evidence of this do you see in her writings for today?

Keppler's essay is dense and meandering and advocates a strong line of activism. Examine the theories of political organization and the connection between racism, sexism and speciesism. What makes these oppressions interlocked?

What is her argument against "multiculturalism"?

She makes a claim for a modern paradigm called a "human zoology of cultures" (338). "We seem to think that the harm in racism lies in the use of biological criteria of classification" but we know that racist theories have never been entirely biological (338). How are nation-states like a zoo? Who is being protected from whom?

She recognizes a hierarchy of cultures (not all cultures are created equal), indeed an evolutionary understanding of cultures, that leads to the justification of war among the nation states. This then leads to a critique of the allotment of living space. Who has access to living space? Whose rights take priority? We can connect this to ideas of place and place making. (340)

"Reproduction, the sexist instrumentalization of women as reproducers of their 'kind,' is the pivot of all speciesism, racism, ethnicism, and nationalism, -- the construction of collective entities at the cost of the rights and interests of individuals" (348). Comment.

When all is said and done, do you agree with the premises of the piece? Are all oppressions connected? Is there a causal relation between eating animals and racism and sexism? This is a question perhaps that we can return to in the remaining classes.


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