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Innocence: Round, not Flat

Photo courtesy of The Innocence Project.

Thesis

Racism is the result of flat characterization, and leads to issues like false incarceration. The Innocent Project is one way to challenge that.

Main claims

  • We are always surrounded by narratives, and that influences our views of the world and the people in it.
  • Flattening a person or persons based on race → racism 
  • Examples of racism among police demonstrate flattening further
  • Innocence Project as a means to confront and reject flattening

Best Evidence

  • Abbott 
    • Round vs. Flat (133)
      • Flat characters are “limited to a narrow range of predictable behaviors” (133)
        • no hidden complexity (133)
        • Keen- “easily recognizable, easily remembered” (68)
  • Reader/Viewer + Narrative → Reader/Viewer’s construction of a character (134)
  • Reader/Viewer + Narrative → Reader/Viewer’s construction of a real person (135)
    • However poorly they are composed or however poorly we may read or view them, histories, biographies, newspaper reports, legal briefs, documentaries, film biographies all purport to tell us of real people. But are real people characters? (135).
      • Perhaps they can become characters simply by the nature in which we view any story. When it comes to race, we see repeated mugshots of black men, ‘criminals.’ Might some come to see them as a specific kind of (flat) character?
  • Delgado and Stefancic
    • Reasonable racist: one who treats members of another group in racist fashion because he or she believes that, statistically, the other group is prone to crime or similar behavior (183).
      • Influenced by narratives and ultimately flatten individuals based on race.
    • Racial Profiling: In which the police stop minority-looking motorists to search for drugs of other contraband (121).
      • Searching for certain characteristics, repeated examples of how someone is ‘just like the others.’
    • The number of young black men in prison or jail is larger than the number attending college (120).
Example of racial profiling: Shaquille Dukes, 24, was arrested during a walk near the hospital, where he was being treated for pneumonia.
  • The Innocence Project
    • “The Innocence Project’s mission is to free the staggering number of innocent people who remain incarcerated, and to bring reform to the system responsible for their unjust imprisonment.”
      • Most known for providing DNA evidence to prove false imprisonment
      • Most of TIP’s cases are for sexual assault and murder
    • Over 300 cases detailed on their website of people falsely incarcerated. Small number in comparison to the overall prison population, but even then majority of clients are African American men.
Malcolm Alexander and his dog, Innocent. Courtesy of Today.

Case Example: Malcom Alexander.

  • Convicted 11/05/1980 for rape
  • Unrelated incident prompts police to place photograph in an array shown to the victim
    • “Tentative selection”
    • Confidence jumps to around 98% by the time of the trial
  • Means of blood type testing connection available but unused
  • True perpetrator’s hair found and tested in 2013
  • Exonerated 1/30/2018
    • Spent 38 years in prison, some have spent even more

The Innocence Project may become one way to confront flattening based on race.

  • Expansion to help more clients in the present
  • Speak about racial bias

Counterpoint

A lot of those cases from TIP came from much earlier times (late 70s, 80s, 90s). If flattening was a problem, it could have just been a problem during those times.

Rebuttal

The Pew Research Center shows that, as of 2017, black men make up the majority of men in prison. While that percentage is shrinking, it’s still significant.

Counterpoint

Doesn’t all of this have more to do with masterplots than round and flat characterization?

Rebuttal

That may be so, however I would argue that to limit someone to a ‘type’ is also a form of flattening. And maybe that’s something I can explore a bit in the project itself.

Counterpoint

There’s no real point to relying on The Innocence Project since it can’t help everyone.

Rebuttal

Unfortunately, that’s true. There are many who cannot be helped by TIP, for example there are many cases involving drugs rather than DNA. However, TIP does more than just provide DNA evidence. They also work to improve case law and push for reform in order to prevent false incarceration. Even if this cycle continues, as it likely will, it could be that they are able to take away the validity of those who make a habit of flattening a person based on race. There’s still more I have to do to tie in this piece of my project, so I will focus on it more as I continue.

Plans for Development

  • Continue paper
  • Edit as necessary

Madeline Welch Reading Blog 9

When something terrible happens, people want justice. They want to make sense of the event, support the victims, and insure that the perpetrator is properly punished for what they did. They look to the legal system as a way to accomplish all of these goals. Things can get tricky, though, if the story is not so black and white. If the perpetrator is also a victim. If speaking one’s truth might be more dangerous than staying silent. We insist, still, that everyone should have the chance to tell their story. That everyone deserves the same opportunities. But what happens if there is no innocence in the story that the defendant has to tell? And what happens if recounting it does nothing but bring more harm to them?

Both of those questions must be asked when considering Hetty Sorrel’s case in Adam Bede. All during her trial she was “‘frightened, very frightened,’” and “‘hung her head down’” rather than face anyone (Eliot 762). She didn’t speak at all, only letting out “a piercing shriek” when the sentence was given (777). She was certainly traumatized by what had happened, what she had done.

One might say that if she had only spoken up, explained sooner why she had taken the actions she did, then perhaps the jury may have requested mercy along with the guilty verdict. After all, “the unnaturalness of her crime stood out the more harshly by the side of her hard immovability and obstinate silence” (776). However, there’s little in her story that would have helped her. True, there was some proof of her poor mental state during the act, her admitting to thoughts of suicide-“I tried to kill myself before…I tried so to drown myself in the pool” (804). And she claimed that she “heard the baby crying” even though that wouldn’t be possible because she was “a long way off from the wood,” implying that she was not altogether present in reality even afterwards (807). A case for not guilty by reason of insanity, if such a thing existed here, might have been possible. It could have been argued in this hypothetical situation that Hetty was “under the influence of insane delusion” (United Kingdom House of Lords Decision). 

But even if the M’Naghten case had occurred before this time, it wouldn’t have helped Hetty much because the conclusion was that M’Naghten was “nevertheless punishable if he knew at the time that he was acting contrary to the law” (United Kingdom House of Lords Decision). Hetty did know what she was doing, even if coming to that decision had been the result of a poor state of mind. She didn’t want the child, in fact later saying that she had “seemed to hate it” (Eliot 806). A little while after the birth, “the thought came into [her] mind that [she] might get rid of it and go home again” (805). She eventually decided that she’d put the baby in a shallow hole she’d come across “and cover it with grass and chips-I couldn’t kill it any other way” (806). There, that second part of the sentence, shows that she knew she was killing it, and murder is of course wrong. Her guilt was what drew her back, after all. So, in answer to the first question, since there is little to no innocence in Hetty’s tale, it’s likely that her speaking it in court would have only intensified the negative opinions of the jury.

Hetty could not speak at all, though, even if she wanted to. Dinah claimed that it was “the pride of her heart” that kept Hetty silent, but I’m skeptical (812). The young woman hardly knew it was Dinah entering the cell, after all: “Hetty kept her eyes fixed on Dinah’s face–at first like an animal that gazes, and gazes, and keeps aloof” (796). I think that’s more closely tied to trauma than pride. Regardless of intent or reasoning, to realize that you’ve killed your child can’t be easy. And I know that it can be difficult to speak properly after going through something traumatic. (It’s not completely the same, admittedly, but when I saw my dog get hit by a car, I found my speech halting for several hours afterward.) Then, when Hetty was actually telling the tale, she had to keep stopping, and to actually start was difficult because “the tears and sobs were too violent” (803). So for the second question, if she had been able to speak up in court, it not only would have harmed her case further but brought her even more trauma to go through it again. Going further, her trauma prevented her from speaking in the first place, so this insistence that everyone must do so can be very insensitive and harmful in that way. 

Yes, it is important for the accused to tell their story, but perhaps it should not always mandatory. Perhaps it’s just a nice idea. The more personal a crime, I think, the harder it is to examine. I think about all those who experience sexual assault, and the people who tell them that it’s their responsibility to bring the perpetrator to justice. That it’s their responsibility to not let the person get away with what they did. All this puts so much pressure on the individual and, I would argue, is an offshoot of victim blaming. I’m not saying Hetty is a victim per say, or that women who have done similar things should just stay quiet and accept their fate. I’m saying that our idea of justice can be intense, and there’s a possibility that it can harm more people than it helps. 

Madeline Welch Blog 8

Regarding my topic, I would like to avoid repetition if possible, so things that we have focused on heavily already (masterplots, rags to riches, immigration and the American dream) are not as appealing to me. However, I like the idea of combining some of those elements into other topics, such as voices of color and the empathic fallacy, “front burner issues” from Critical Race Theory, The Innocence Project, and Black Lives Matter. We haven’t talked about the last one, “Leaning in”, but issues of feminism are also interesting and important to me. I think I could talk more about that once I have more context. 

I’m leaning towards focusing on the Innocence Project, which I know a bit about but would be interested to learn more. I think it especially can be relevant if, say, a “type” ascribed to a certain individual influenced their arrest despite lack of evidence. Or, once a type was ascribed, their “character” was in a sense flattened and allowed no further depth. I could also look at the other side, speak about the dangers of empathy and connect that to cases like Steven Avery who may not have been entirely innocent. I also have a friend at Sarah Lawrence College studying forensic science, and I’m sure I could speak to her about the more fact-based side of things. I’m also willing to look at Drown and The Hate U Give in terms of voices of color,  front burner issues and the Black Lives Matter movement. The only thing I worry about with these topics is, once again, repetition, because I am working on an assignment in another class connecting restrictions to abortion and the oppression of black women. Still, I am open to exploring other aspects of the topics and put a more literary lens to them. 

Whatever I choose I’m sure I could connect it with a current case or story, as well as the theories we’ve discussed in class. The only thing I worry about is this idea of a multi-modal project. I would like more clear descriptions of what that might mean. I can pull together a powerpoint fairly easily, and speak in front of the class. But should I be thinking beyond that? I don’t know if I enjoy my voice enough to record it in a podcast and listen to it with the class, but if I was interviewing someone who had knowledge in my topic that might be more tolerable. But with the podcast example I just don’t know if I’d be able to pull that together in time, as I have at least two other projects due around the time of this one and have to give equal focus to them. This idea of an open topic is interesting but I would like to narrow in sooner rather than later for this reason. 

Madeline Welch Reading Blog 7

There is a lot that can be said about The Hate U Give, most of which cannot fit into a single blog post. Besides being an extremely well-written and heartbreaking novel, it prompts a great deal of discussion in several areas. Critical race theorists would likely focus on the ideas of racism, assimilation, and intersectionality. In order to avoid going on forever, I’ll just be focusing on racism in this post, as it pops up in many areas. 

I think something that stood out to me the most in the novel was the idea that “racism is difficult to address or cure because it’s not acknowledged” (Delgado & Stefancic 8). There’s the obvious example of the shooting and subsequent murder of Khalil; police brutality is one of the more extreme results of racism. But it exists in other areas too. I think of the conversation between Uncle Carlos and Maverick. In reference to the murder, Carlos insisted, “‘this isn’t about black or white’” (Thomas 51). Yet we saw through the eyes of our protagonist, Starr, that Khalil “was unarmed” (104) and that the cop “turn[ed] up empty” when searching for drugs (23). Other than moving when he wasn’t supposed to, why would the officer have been so ready to shoot? All signs point to the young man’s race. As Maverick points out, “‘you said it yourself, [Brian] thought Khalil was a drug dealer…why would he have assumed that though? What? By looking at Khalil?’” (52). And yet, because of the refusal to acknowledge this form of racism, it continues. Because “despite a credible eyewitness account, the police department [had] no intentions of arresting the officer who murdered [Khalil]” (128). More officers are likely to receive a similar ‘sentence,’ both in the novel and in real life. 

Another place racism turns up is in Starr’s friend Hailey. Aside from urging Starr during a basketball game to “‘pretend the ball is some fried chicken’” (111), she shows outright denial that people of color have been-and continue to be-treated horribly in this country. Starr had posted a picture on Tumblr of Emmett Till, a man who “was murdered for whistling at a white woman in 1955” (77). It was a horrific event that spurred the civil rights movement to go national (Jansson 266). Hailey didn’t seem to care about any of that, though, as she “couldn’t believe [Starr] would reblog such an awful picture” and unfollowed her shortly afterwards (Thomas 77). When Starr was upset at the basketball game, she was furious to have been called out for her words. She asks, “‘after everything we’ve been through, you think I’m a racist?’” (112). Searching for some possible reason her friend would have been acting strangely, Hailey continues: “‘does this have something to do with that drug dealer in your neighborhood?…I know you’re into that sort of thing now’” (113). Implying that fighting for civil rights is a ‘thing,’ a hobby that any reasonable (white) person would scoff at, shows that she will not acknowledge racism, nor her potential status as a racist. But this should come as no surprise, as “racism is ordinary, not aberrational” (Delgado & Stefancic 8). 

One last place I’d like to look is stereotypes, which the novel addresses in various areas. Delgado and Stefancic explain that “race and races are products of social thought and relations…categories that society invents, manipulates, or retires when convenient” (9). We see this in the form of racial stereotypes, many of which we could identify when shown a picture; exaggerated features and personality traits. But although we see those as wrong, we have a collection of new stereotypes for black people: the drug dealer, the thug, the criminal, all of which the officer applied to Khalil. But those are just the male coded ones. There’s also “thug ghetto girl” (Thomas 113) or “the angry black girl” (115). These labels aren’t just labels, though. There are higher stakes than how one might be treated at school. They almost seem to justify violent actions taken against black people. According to Carlos, because Khalil was a suspected drug dealer, “‘that makes it okay’” for him to have been shot and killed (52).

I do want to point out that this whole post, along with the novel, plays into the black-white dichotomy. There are other races in the U.S. who face troubles and dangers, who have racism and stereotypes controlling their lives. However, just because The Hate U Give focuses on this one group, that doesn’t change any of the issues discussed. It provides a unique perspective; an acknowledgement of how black people in particular are treated by white Americans. It may not be as inclusive as certain theorists might like, but that shouldn’t mean it’s any less important. 

I’ve really enjoyed this novel so far…even though I’ve come close to crying several times. And we’re only at chapter eight! Regardless, it’s made me think quite a bit, as well as reexamine my position and status as a white woman. I look forward to reading more and discovering where Starr’s story takes her.

Additional source: Jansson, Bruce S. The Reluctant Welfare State: Engaging History to Advance Social Work Practice in Contemporary Society. Boston, MA, Cengage Learning, 2019.

Madeline Welch Reading Blog 6

Questions- 

4. Browning inserts the love story to show what barriers exist for slaves. At first, the speaker thinks she may have found a way to be happy, receiving and “tender and full” gaze from another slave (Browning, line 61) and later a confession of “‘I love you’” (line 72). However, her speaking in the past tense and the man being dragged away hints that he has been killed. Her love was stolen from her because, being black, they “had no claim to love and bliss” (line 93). It relates back to the critique of God in those earlier stanzas; He creates black people only to “cast His work away” later (line 25).

5. It recalls the first stanza because the speaker looks upon “his blood’s mark in the dust” (line 97) just as she will later look upon “the mark beside the shore/of the first white pilgrim’s bended knee” (lines 1-2). But while those pilgrims had done that as a representation of freedom, this was a further showing of captivity. I think that line means that the masters would not let her cry for her love’s death because she needed to get back to work, that perhaps they hurt her when she tried crying. That’s one more thing that was taken from her, something merciful that she was not allowed due to her blackness. 

6. I think she literally thinks it for the best that the child die. Not to save it per say but to keep violence from continuing. They both “went moaning, child and mother” (line 110), but she saw this crying from the child as him “want[ing] his liberty/…want[ing] his master’s right” (lines 125-26). 

7. She admits to her hatred for the baby, because he “was far too white…too white for me” (line 116). She “could not bare/to look at his face, it was so white” (lines 120-21). But she also admits that his struggle did cause her pain, as he beat “against my heart to break it though,” (line130) and she nearly sang to him to calm him. 

8. All of those stanzas have some form of defiance, perhaps because the speaker is done accepting her forced position. We have more obvious forms, like her saying to the men, “Keep off! I brave you all at once” (line 207) and “Man, drop that stone you dared to lift” (line 212). She also defies them in her mind, declaring, “I am not mad: I am black” (line 219), and uses her willpower to keep silent; “You think I shrieked then? Not a sound” (line 226).

9. The speaker makes an interesting statement that this free land is sustained by oppression and abuse; “For in the UNION, you have set/two kinds of men in adverse rows,/Each loathing each” (lines 234-36). However, they “forget/the seven wounds in Christ’s body fair” meaning they ignore the man they worship who died wishing for kindness and acceptance (lines 236-37). I think it’s quite depressing that these people only took from religion what suited them best. 

10. It has to do with her son. She says, “In the name of the white child, waiting for me/In the death-dark where we may kiss and agree” (lines 251-52). If there’s this chance she and the baby she loathed could have a chance to reconcile in death, there’s a chance something similar could happen between black and white people. 

I do believe this poem could have been effective. I think it forces white people to look at the origins of the nation, and highlights the contradictions of liberty and slavery. It calls to question why God would have “made dark things/To be glad and merry as white” if all dark creations are meant to be inferior (lines 29-30). I also believe this poem definitely rounds out similar characters to the speaker. If this story had been told from the perspective of a slave owner, he might have portrayed her as the stereotype/flat character of the ‘Jezebel’. Because she had an (arguably) sexual relationship with another one of the slaves, she might be seen as immoral and promiscuous (st. XII). Certainly, this was a type that was used to label black women in other works. Of course, people are much more than types. We see in this story that it was love that bound these two, not just sexual desire (st. IX-X). She wasn’t just a female slave, she was also a mother. But not by choice. She had a white child, which means she was taken advantage of by a white man on the plantation. Perhaps one who only saw her as that Jezebel. Her reaction to it makes more sense in that context. She was made into an object, her freedom stolen even further. This poem shows her struggle, and shows her as a person, which definitely gives credence to the abolitionists’ mindset. 

B. Despite the argument that I made, I do think it is relatively easy to read this poem in the opposite direction. Justice Taney speaks at length about “the interests and safety of society,” which one might say refers to white society only, and therefore the threat the black people pose to that society (Dred Scott v. Sanford, 1856). If he were to read this poem it might prove his point. A black woman killing her son for being “far too white” is certainly a threat, as it implies that most black people hold this innate desire to harm whites (Browning, line 116). Of course, then, the framers would not have wanted them to be on equal footing. Furthermore, if maliciousness and immorality is what black people always have within them, then it would make sense that God would create them to be below white people and to serve them (st. IV). They don’t deserve to “bend [their] knee upon this mark” that was left by the pilgrims, as they seek to kill the descendents of these pilgrims (line 6). To clarify, I do not agree with this standpoint! But if the goal of people like Taney to create villains, to find faults, to justify an institution that will always benefit them, they will always be able to find what they are looking for. A violent and crazy slave instead of a heartbroken yet strong woman gives them everything they need. 

Madeline Welch Reading Blog 5

The two stories I have chosen are Aguantando and Edison, New Jersey. The first is about a poor family in Puerto Rico. The protagonist, the youngest son referred to as ‘Yunior,’  recounts the stories of his childhood and his absentee father (Diaz 69-88). The second is about a retail worker in New Jersey, who is unnamed. He tells us about some of his history and his attitude towards life while trying to get a man named Pruitt his pool table (Diaz 121-140). 

There’s a lot to unpack in these stories, which I found to be interesting but slow-paced at times. I think in and of themselves they reject the “black-white binary” that often overshadows our country (Delgado & Stefanic 92). While discussions of discrimination or poverty often focus in on black Americans, Diaz showcases Latino protagonists and families facing these troubles. I think the fact that I had to keep google translate open in front of me as I read also shows our country’s preference for the English language, another issue that LatCrit scholars focus on (93). 

Intersectionality is found all over in Diaz’s work. Looking at Aguantando, we see a single Latino mother, struggling to get by and support her children. Yunior tells us that when his brother Rafa caught worms, “it was only be skimping on our dinners that Mami could afford to purchase Verminox” (Diaz 71). I feel like her husband took advantage of her, leaving her to take care of their sons while he went to work in the U.S. This could be because she’s a woman, assumed to be destined for a domestic role. Along with that, he could have just been a bad person. Miranda mentions ominously that Yunior’s father “took too much”, wishing, “if only your mother could have noticed his true nature earlier” (76). In Edison, New Jersey, the protagonist faces clear discrimination as a Latino man, however in terms of intersectionality I would focus on Pruitt’s maid. She’s black, with Spanish being her native language. Since she “stared…blankly” when the protagonist tried to converse in English, I believe she might have faced difficulties in this country due to her language barrier (133). She’s also young, as the protagonist estimates that she “couldn’t have been older than twenty”, and often younger people are not taken as seriously in our country (126). She’s unhappy in her position as a housekeeper; she didn’t answer the door the first couple of times the protagonist and Wayne came by because she “wanted to piss him [Pruitt] off” (133). Though she lives in the house and doesn’t have means to leave. If you want to talk about a person presumed to be destined for domestic work, I would look no further than our country’s history with white people hiring people of color to clean their houses. Something that is still quite active today. With her being a woman, I think we clearly see a combination of gender-based discrimination and race/ethnicity-based discrimination. 

I don’t believe either of our protagonists are attempting assimilation. Yunior’s family doesn’t live in America, and so they have no reason to. We can guess about their father, how he’s getting by in a different country, but it’s not something that touches the rest of his family. Meanwhile, in New Jersey, the protagonist is definitely making an effort to stay true to himself. While he works for (often white) “doctors, diplomats, surgeons, presidents of universities, ladies in slacks,” he doesn’t put their needs before his own (Diaz 122). If he has been mistreated by his client, he will “cram bubble bath drops into [his] pockets and throw fist-sized wads of toilet paper into the toilet. [He’ll] take a dump if [he] can and leave that for them” (123).

If a critical race theorist were too look at these two stories, they might notice the disparities between the Latino characters and everyone else. In Aguantando, they might point to the lack of a father figure and the struggle in a single-income home, as well as Yunior at nine not being able to read or “write [his] own name” (Diaz 82). In Edison, New Jersey, one might look at how easy it would have been for the protagonist and Wayne to lose their jobs because some white man got upset. They might see the discrimination, for example the boss calling him to help on a sale “only when he needs [his] Spanish” (125), and women of color as domestic servants. They might also share the protagonist’s annoyance with people of color dating white people.

In regards to the American dream, once again I don’t see much of a connection in the first story other than perhaps the father felt he’d get it in America. Aside from Rafa mentioning that his father would “be taller” because “Northamerian food makes people that way” (87), there isn’t much commentary on the country. In the second story I think it’s safe to say the American Dream is challenged. Pruitt has it, with affording a nice house, a live-in servant and “newly planted rosebushes” (121). There’s “photos of him on vacations, on beaches” and the protagonist guesses he’s “probably been to more countries than I know the capitals for” (134). Meanwhile, we see at the forefront of this story the people behind the dream, the ones building the frame of it. The people that come to install your pool table, or clean your house, that will never reach the dream because it keeps getting pushed further out of their grasp. For our protagonist, buying things for his girlfriend was “the closet [he’s] come to feeling rich” (125). He spends time wondering “how long it’d take [him] to buy a pool table honestly”, deciding it’d be “two and a half years” if he were to give up the majority of food and clothing (128). So to say, ‘anyone can make it in America’ is not only foolish, but also plays into our country’s history of ignoring the struggles of other races. Or rather, creating said struggles intentionally. Diaz shows us this quite plainly without ever having to say it out loud.

Since I read Delgado and Stefanic first, I was easily able to see some of the issues they were highlighting in action during these stories, which was very helpful. Overall, I hope to continue looking at these kinds of stock stories with skepticism, because a stock story is all the American Dream is. 

Madeline Welch Reading Blog 4

As I began the story of Ragged Dick, also known as Richard Hunter, I noticed a few technical intrigues. I was able to see that we had an overt narrator, who spoke in the first person when describing several events and our protagonist. There’s a desire of the narrator, whether it’s the actual or implied author, that “young readers will like him” as he does, despite the child’s faults (Alger, 1868, pg. 6). Thus, I wondered if he would become an unreliable narrator, if he would have any sort of bias when describing Dick. This wasn’t specifically addressed, though I did think of it every time the narrator referenced himself and his own thoughts. The concept of narrated monologue seems to be at play as well, as we see, often, a “double-voiced kind of discourse” when the narrator discusses his own thoughts as well as  Dick’s (Keen, 2015, pg. 62). 

Once I began to pay attention to the narrative, however, I was bothered by how easily Dick was able to move out of his current situation. Mr. Whitney gave Dick new clothes and “a five dollar bill”, in hopes that he would “repay it in the form of aid to some poor boy” (Alger, 1868, pg. 50), and suddenly Dick changes his entire life and does just that. This made me uncomfortable because there are people today who truly believe this is how to help the lower classes, and they call it trickle down economics. I didn’t like how smoothly Dick went from sleeping on the street, to creating a bank account, to renting a room, to getting a tutor, to going to Sunday School, to saving up over one hundred dollars. It just felt very unrealistic. Especially the end, where just for saving some random kid he suddenly has the new job he’d been hoping for and a benefactor. I understand this is a rags to riches stock story, but rags to riches in less than a year? When millions are stuck in the same situation for decades? I started to wonder if this was less a stock story and more capitalist propaganda. Then I read Demythologizing Alger, and my feelings were only strengthened. 

Admittedly, I had not heard of Horatio Alger before picking up this novel. I did not carry with me any preconceived notions about the man, like a large portion of America seemed to in the past. Thus, I had no idea that he turned from an “economic mythmaker…into a patriotic defender of the social and political status quo and erstwhile proponent of laissez-faire capitalism” (Scharnhorst, 1980, pg. 192). Ah, and there, I was already seeing a connection to my own thoughts about his work. To hear that so many lauded his work, that he inadvertently created his own masterplot, the “Horatio Alger hero”, again brought up great discomfort for me (1980, pg. 194). It meant my fears were realized, that his ideas about working hard to get ahead did fuel debates about our economy and validated those who felt the same. I understand where it started, the anxieties about the state of the nation during the Great Depression and a need to look for hope in any form (1980, pg. 192). If that hope was a rags to riches narrative, one man’s version in particular, so be it. I also acknowledge Scharnhorst’s point that the whole political ideology stemming from Alger’s work had more to do with “the cultural context  in which the books were read and remembered” (1980, pg. 197). But that doesn’t make the story any less powerful and dangerous. If we truly keep things as they are, believe in the Horatio Alger hero, things in our country will never improve. 


Madeline Welch Reading Blog 3

It’s a bit strange for me to be combining the idea of storytelling with that of law. I’ve grown up equating ‘narrative’ with ‘fiction’; something that ultimately isn’t true, despite any ties it may have to the real world. As such I experience a sort of dissonance promoting storytelling in the legal field. But I think, despite my apprehension, narratives have always existed in law. Because stories are created for a purpose. That purpose could very well be to convict or pardon an individual.

As we can see in the readings, a key aspect of storytelling is the creation of empathy. Keen speaks at length about the various forms that can be found in literature, but the one that I think can be most applied here is ambassadorial strategic empathy. It “addresses audiences with the aim of cultivating their empathy…, often with specific appeal for recognition, assistance or justice” (Keen, 2015, pg. 157). It automatically made me create the connection to legal storytelling, not just with the direct reference to justice but also in its nature to draw audiences-perhaps juries-in with tales of woe. Tales that could push people to feel sympathy for a particular individual by reminding them of certain masterplots. This can easily be combined with broadcast strategic empathy, which emphasizes “our common human experiences, feelings, hopes, vulnerabilities” (Keen, 2015, pg. 157). I think nearly every book and movie about law that I’ve seen showcases a defense lawyer utilizing these two forms of empathy when pleading the case of his client, often someone misunderstood. It’s not hard to picture it in real life either. Utell notes also that in “legal cases, stories serve as a springboard for interpretation, resulting in…passing down a ruling” (Utell, 2015, pg. 134). 

I’m still stuck, though, on this path of combining law and narrative, as “real life if more complicated than allowed in fiction” (Utell, 2015, pg. 136). We also need to remember that different people can try to use empathy and narratives in different ways, asking the question: “from whose perspective is this being told?”(Utell, 2015, pg. 152). This is highlighted in the article The Baby in the Well. The author points out that empathy can “betray us when we take it as a moral guide” (Bloom, 2013). I’m aware this is referring to the overarching point of the article. However, I took this to mean that, when others try to use empathy as a means to cause action from the audience, it can be dangerous. The so-called “identifiable victim effect”, even if it is only a reaction within individuals, can be used by storytellers to manipulate the audience (Bloom, 2013). And “the context of the audience matters” as well (Utell, 2015, pg. 157). Brooks has a very strong example here in terms of politics, as liberals may “argue for gun control…by focussing on the victims of gun violence” while “conservatives point to the unarmed victims of crimes” (Brookes, 2013). Aside from utilizing empathy in a morally questionable way, it’s also tricky because, in general, different people “will have different capacities for experiencing empathy” (Utell, 2015, pg. 157).

So, in the end, I’m still skeptical about the practical uses of narrative in law as it relates to the creation of empathy. But I understand that it exists no matter how I feel about it, not just in the legal fields but in others as well. I also know it’s not always a bad thing either. After all, “stories matter. And it is the matter of stories that make us who we are” (Utell, 2015, pg. 158). Empathy matters too. It’s “what makes us human” (Brooks 2013).  

List of current and semi-current events (that I can think of): climate change protests, the refugee crisis, illegal immigration, the #MeToo movement, the #BlackLivesMatter movement, the transgender ban in the military, gun control debates, California wild fires, opioid crisis, vape controversy, the Mueller Report’s release and the push for Trump’s impeachment, abortion debates, legalization of marijuana, the accusations of boy scout leaders, increasing hurricanes like Hurricane Dorian, and the college admissions scandal.

Empathy does have a place, I think, in all of these events. It’s important to consider all sides and understand their beliefs about what’s going on. Being a social work major, it’s difficult for me to say if empathy would actually be the wrong response for any particular thing. I suppose I can understand the view that facts should be the most important thing, particularly with, say, the Mueller Report or the college admissions scandal, because they have certain implications for the rest of society. Or at least, American society. But despite what Brooks believes, I’m not going to be so quick to abandon empathy even if it can have it’s problems. I think we can be critical of it while still advocating for it. I do think it’s vital to creating a more peaceful society.


Madeline Welch Reading Blog 2

There have been several examples of masterplots in our readings. The one I would like to discuss is the characterization of George Edalji. There are actually a couple different versions of masterplots used for the man in question, created either to paint him as the villain or the victim, so I will be focusing on the latter. Barnes and Doyle follow this masterplot in an attempt to create a compelling narrative. For the purpose of this discussion, I’ll be using this description of narrative: “the representation of an event or a series of events” (Abbott, 2002, pg. 12). This is because of the word ‘representation’, which I think is very important when regarding these two men as narrators. I will also be using Keen’s brief description of narrators, those “responsible for acts of telling” the narrative (Keen, 2015, pg. 33).

Doyle and Barnes present us with the masterplot ‘the scapegoat’ for George Edalji. As Abbott explains, “masterplots come equipped with types- characters whose motivation and personality are an integral and often fixed element of the masterplot” (2002, pg. 185). The motivations of Edalji as the scapegoat are made clear in Beginning with an Ending: he wants to prove his innocence. George says, “I want my name back again. I want to be readmitted as a solicitor” (Barnes, 2005, pg. 261). In The Case of George Edalji, we see a similar motivation set up by Doyle. Edalji has come to him for help in seeking “his complete acquittal” and “his restoration to the rank of that honourable profession from which he has so unjustly been removed” (Doyle, 1907). In Barnes’ portrayal of this, he has Doyle add yet another motivation, one to earn “a large sum in compensation” for what Edalji had endured (Barnes, 2005, pg. 261). But it’s unclear if Doyle truly wanted this, as I couldn’t find evidence of it in his writing. In terms of personality, at least as it relates to George as the scapegoat, we can see his frustration and pain over being charged with a crime he did not commit. Both versions of his story showcase this. During the first conversation between Arthur and George in the novel, George says, “my incarceration did not strengthen my faith. Quite the contrary. It has, I think, destroyed it. My suffering has been quite purposeless” (Barnes, 2005, pg. 263). Even though he did not have to serve all seven years from the initial sentence, we see this case has taken quite the toll on him. In Doyle’s work, we can see him characterizing Edalji as “the sufferer” (1907). He is shown to be a tragic figure, even in the days of the anonymous letters where he was “coming in to his fair share of the gross abuse” (Doyle, 1907). 

None of this is to say that Edalji didn’t endure a lot, that he wasn’t suffering, but it is important to remember that we are being told a story. A specific narrative. And the way that these two authors go about telling it, or narrating it, leads the reader to feel a certain way about the characters. Barnes and Doyle both do their best to garner sympathy for the man, because it is important to their narrative of him as the wronged, the falsely accused, the misunderstood. Barnes may have just wanted to tell a story that would inevitably make money, but Doyle, as previously stated, was fighting to see Edalji’s innocence accepted by the Home Office. In order to do that, he not only gathered evidence but also set up Edalji as that specific sympathetic man. He relied on that masterplot, perhaps because he knew that would tug at the public’s heartstrings. Authors craft stories out of existing and familiar ones, because they know what people will respond to and understand. This isn’t a bad thing per say, but it does give us an interesting perspective to explore.

Madeline Welch Reading Blog 1

Unlike the first two sections of the novel, I approached part three of Arthur & George, ‘Ending with a Beginning’, with a more critical eye. This is mostly due to our class discussion on Wednesday, where we questioned both Arthur Conan Doyle’s and Julian Barnes’ stories. We had wondered if we were only getting those results with both authors already having the ending as an advantage. In fact, Captain Anson makes this point during his conversation with Doyle: “Everything you’ve written proceeds from the feeling” that George is innocent (Barnes, 2005, p. 329) . That is, Doyle’s decision about Edalji dictated how he looked at the case. Interestingly, that line Barnes wrote changes everything else in his novel. Was he providing these in-depth biographies based on actual knowledge or conclusions from Doyle and the court? Did he provide the true lives of these two men or was he simply foreshadowing later conversations and documents? I can’t be sure, but now I can’t look at the novel on its own without those kinds of questions popping into my mind.

I happened to read Wilson’s report before finishing part three, because I wanted my own perspective on the ending rather than Barnes’ or Doyle’s. I think this was a good decision, because it is directly quoted in the novel in between the thoughts and beliefs of the characters. This can shift one’s stance easily. For example, reading that the jury “held that Edalji was the writer of those letters” and that the authors of this report were “not prepared to dissent from the finding at which…the jury arrived,” one might agree wholeheartedly (Wilson et al., 1907, p. 5). If everyone’s so sure, then that must be what happened. But if one had read the novel first, they might have instead felt concern because both George and Arthur consider it untrue. Arthur shouts “balderdash” while “George feels himself going faint”, and the reader is upset for both rather than just accepting of the report as is (Barnes, 2005, pp. 378-379). I’m not saying I agree completely with the findings of the Home Office, but I was more neutral about their case when it was on its own.

I think overall the readings were interesting. I look forward to seeing the end of the novel and hearing from the rest of the class.

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