Monday, March 14, 2011

The Power of Human Nature

In Tuesday’s readings, Walt Whitman’s poems, “One’s-Self I Sing” and “I Sing the Body Electric” are poems of praise and celebration of both men and women, as well as their power. This automatic sense of power is often forgotten about, and Whitman’s poems emphasize this self-assured sense of power in each of his two poems to prove that each person has a place in society and that nobody should feel undermined. In Mary Shelly’s “Frankenstein”, Shelly approaches the power of human nature in a different way. Instead of celebrating human nature’s power, Shelly stretches the power of both science and human nature and shows its effect on society. Victor Frankenstein’s creation of a monster from a cadaver pushes the limit of human nature, and while it is to be celebrated in some regards, Victor lost control of his own power and the monster’s power was overwhelming.

In Waltman’s, “I Sing the Body Electric”, the speaker glorifies all people and their differences, whether they are a boy or a girl. The speaker emphasizes the importance of being aware of the differences between men and women, but accepting them. Also, the message comes across that the men and women compliment, or complete, each other. This is because the poem begins with mentioning all sorts of people in the same line, yet the eventually become divided. First, men and their physical appearance and features are described, which transitions to a description of a female’s appearance. The poem concludes with general observations of the similarities between all people, in that health is important, everyone has a soul, and everyone is made up of blood and bones. This shows that both women and men have their own unique abilities and power, yet all people have common features that brings them together. The poem is in open form, which emphasizes the idea that there are no “rules” for a person to feel self-empowered. It also proves that the roles of a man and woman are ultimately overlapping since the only thing that divides them are physical features.

In the other Waltman poem, “One’s-Self I Sing”, self-empowerment is approached in a different way. The words “male” and “female” are capitalized. This shows the importance of the difference between a male and female. It also gives each word another meaning. The words male and female are not only classifying a person’s gender anymore. Another significant message portrayed in the poem, one that is similar to the idea of acknowledging both the body and soul that is found in “I Sing the Body Electric”, is that the brain alone is not enough to inspire human beings to act. Humans desire physical connection and interest in another person that goes beyond an intellectual connection. Waltman emphasizes in both poems that is important to be aware of all aspects of your self, and not just the physical features and the differences you have from other people. This poem celebrates how our body has a power and strength of its own. We use this power to act freely and of our own accord.

However, this ability to act freely is sometimes taken for granted. In “Frankenstein”, Victor turns a cadaver into a monster. This entirely defies nature and is terrifying to the rest of the community, yet in some ways, the monster has the same, if not more, power than the others. Similar to the idea portrayed in Hawthorne’s “The Birthmark”, Frankenstein takes advantage of science to create something that he ultimately regrets and cannot escape. Ironically, he loses a sense of his own personal freedom after he creates the monster, which was ultimately done because he wanted to explore his freedom and the limitations of science. Also, similar to the idea portrayed in “I Sing the Body Electric”, the monster wanted Victor to create a female monster for him so that he would have someone to love and accept him. This proves that males and females are compliments to each other and a sense of connection between people is desired. Also, Victor only marries Liz after the Dad insists on it. He had already ignored his mother’s request to marry Liz. This raises the question, does a man’s opinion value more than a woman’s? Whitman’s poems suggest that both opinions should be valued the same and that gender should not play a deciding role in a person’s judgment, yet Victor does not act this way.

In general, gender roles in society today are very skewed. During my service at Guilford Elementary Middle School, I realized that there were nearly the same amount of girls as boys on the National Academic League team, yet when the team was competing, boys were the ones answering questions during certain rounds, where the girls on the teams were either sitting in the audience watching or waiting to be used as a substitute. Another round of the competition is based on presentation and public speaking. In this round, the girls were the only ones presenting. I wondered if this was only because these students were better at presenting, but when I saw other schools’ teams, it was the same! I know that there is no rule stating that only boys answer questions, while the girls do the presenting, but it made me wonder if the coaches rely more on the presenting round (it’s worth more points), so they think the girls would do a better job, which would give them a better chance of winning the game. However, I felt as if the boys didn’t have a chance to prove themselves! Also, during one of my days at Guilford, we were grading papers and quizzes for Mr. Smith. One of the questions asked about the differences between boys and girls and how they are treated. One student’s answer stood out to me. She wrote that young boys often didn’t care about school and ended up dropping out or getting sent to jail. She read somewhere that mostly all the juveniles in prison are males and that the majority of students applying to colleges are girls. I found it striking that a young girl in middle school was so aware of how gender roles in society are skewed. She wrote that all people are the same so she didn’t understand why only girls were staying in school and boys were ending up in jail. Using Whitman’s idea that all people, both men and women, are not different and all have the power to be great, all students should be staying in school!

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