This week, I attended the annual fall lecture on African and African American studies called “Bridging the Atlantic: The Pitfalls and Potential of U.S and Africa Engagement” hosted by Emira Woods. I also read the short story “The Cask of Amontillado” by Edgar Allen Poe and the poems “Ode to American English” by Barbara Hamby and “Suburban” by John Ciardi. At first sight, these three pieces of work and the event are all very different. However, these works of literature and the event all deal with people who are driven by their societies and surroundings and want to make a change.
At the event I attended, Woods discussed how important it is to focus on education and service, somethi]ng we are all taught here at a Jesuit university. She also discussed how everyone needs to understand that they have the opportunity to make a change in the world, and ask ourselves “How can the United States improve their relationships with the world?” Many American universities and speculators are now getting involved in an organization where they take land from countries like Ghana, Nigeria, Uganda and many more. As they take the land, they are uprooting the lives of the workers. Approximately 70% of people in these countries live in rural areas, where they work on farms. Out of that 70%, around 80% of the farm work is done by women. When these people lose their work because of Americans taking over, they have no way of making money. At the end of the presentation, Woods wanted us to leave with the idea that we need to begin to enforce the laws, especially with human rights and put the needs of others first. Both countries need to come together in order to “bridge the Atlantic”. This also furthers the theme of how people are driven by their societies and surroundings, but have the opportunity to change that for the better.
In the story, “The Cask of Amontillado”, the main character, Montresor, wants revenge on an acquaintance, Fortunato, who he believed offended him in some way, although there is no proof. Montresor lures Furtunato into his vaults with the promise of a delicious wine, where he plans to kill him. As he’s feeding Fortunato the wine, Fortunato begins to become drunk, and does not realize the actuality of the situation until he sobers up and sees Montresor blocking the entrance with stones, where he is now trapped. It is only fifty years later when Montresor admits to killing Fortunato. Since Montresor does not have any proof and there is no way of convicting Fortunato in the society they live in, Montressor has to take matters into his own hands to seek revenge. This is an example of how people are driven by their societies and their surroundings.
Secondly, in “Ode to American English”, Hamby reflects on the American lifestyle. She reflects on the little things America has to offer, like “donuts” (7), “hotdogs” (9) or “billboards” (12). Through her writing, she doesn’t seem to focus on the important aspects of American culture, just the ones we see in our everyday life. Even though the speaker is in Paris, she is drawn to these aspects of her culture, one of the themes that is relevant to all three of these poems and stories.
Lastly, in “Suburban”, Ciardi uses humor and irony to tell the story of Mrs. Friar and the speaker. Mrs. Friar calls Mr. Ciardi and tells him that his dog has left his business on her lawn and she wants him to pick it up. Although Mr. Ciardi knows that his dog is with his son in Vermont, he goes along with the story, and even apologizes. Mrs. Friar is a symbol of the classic American suburban wife, who has adapted to her surroundings. It is what she is used to and what she is accustom to. This poem also exploits the theme of people and how they are driven by their environment.