On Wednesday October 17, I attended the annual event Catholic Contemporary Writers. This year's speaker was Dr. Anne Butler, author of the book, Across God's Frontiers: Catholic Sisters in the American West, 1850-1920. The common theme I found with the main idea of Dr. Butler's book, and this week's readings; Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, Formula, and Old Walt, both by Langston Hughes, is the theme of determination.
When I went to the reading and lecture given by Dr. Butler, I was honestly not especially looking forward to it, judging by the title of the event. This was because I spent four years of high school being taught by religious Sisters, and have my opinions of them. I went into the lecture thinking I'd be hearing things I've heard countless times. However, the main point of the lecture surprised me, and I actually learned a lot of new things. Dr. Butler talked about how in the 1850s to the early 1900s multiple orders of religious Sisters migrated to the west to look for work. Some of these orders included the Sisters of Mercy and the Sisters of the Holy Cross. These Sisters went to the west to do physical labor, like working in mines and on farms, and also worked heavily in the secular world, living with sick families, and providing health care to a wide spectrum of patients. The main idea of the book was to emphasize that some of the most influential Sisters were influential because they aimed to break the boundaries enforced because of their gender and the traditional rules that come with living a cloistered lifestyle. They believed that helping people in the community was more important than strictly adhering to a cloistered lifestyle, given that this kind of lifestyle typically placed limitations on what the Sisters could and how they could dress. Some orders stopped wearing their habits, and began to "challenge the validity of convent life," concerning themselves more with being productive and active members of the community as a whole, rather than simply within their communities. I found this very interesting because it was very different from the dynamic of the order of Sisters at my high school. The Sisters discussed in Dr. Butler's novel showed determination in following their intuition, and not letting traditional expectations keep them from doing what they thought was right and helpful for the community.
In the first half Shelley's Frankenstein, Victor is incredibly determined to create the Frankenstein monster. Though he does not intend to make an actual monster, or even realize the repercussions of what he is doing, he does complete the task. He studies philosophy and natural sciences for a long period of time, because he knows what he must do to achieve his goals, and is determined to do it.
In Langston Hughes' poem, Formula, Hughes suggests that there really is no formula for poetry. Rather, he emphasizes that poetry "Treats of lofty things," meaning that poetry goes beyond what is visible and know to all people. Poetry has a certain personal level that is unique to it. This somewhat relates to the determination in Dr. Butler's novel, and in Frankenstein, because good poetry must come from within an individual.
Similarly, in Hughes' poem, Old Walt, Hughes attributes Walt Whitman's talent and success to his choice to go searching for things and inspiration, and playing close attention to every detail of discovery and observation. Again, in compliance with the common theme of determination, Whitman's doing this was a conscious choice which he had to work at, and was very beneficial to him.
I think that the common theme between the event I attended this week, and this weeks readings is personal will and determination. This is something that is absolutely necessary to achieve goals and tasks, whether or not those tasks are objectively good or not. In each of these works, people achieve what they seek to only by way of hard work and determination.