Rachel Schnakenberg


This research investigates the impact of devastating flood events in Houston, Texas, on flood-specific legislation at a statewide level and regulation within Harris County and Houston City. Although extant studies have investigated the two separately, the interrelationship has received surprisingly little scholarly attention. While it may be reasonably assumed that major events result in significant legislative responses, this investigation shows a highly mediated relationship between the two, with political barriers to proactive policymaking, including the limited attention of lawmakers and complex intergovernmental relationships, conditioning flood responses. Two semi-structured interviews were conducted with Dr. Phillip Bedient, director of the SSPEED Center at Rice University, and Texas State Senator Brandon Creighton to understand the magnitude of the policy problem and the reach of legislative responses. An examination of three floods and state and local responses between 2015-2021 indicates a distinct upward trend in flood-related laws and enhanced cooperation between governmental agencies. However, the measures have been largely reactive, with proactive policymaking confronting the significant hurdles of organizational boundaries and political agenda.

Legislative and Regulatory Responses to Houston-Area Flood Events Since 2015

Houston, America’s fourth largest metropolitan area, is experiencing a period of heightened precipitation with unprecedented regularity, resulting in catastrophic damage on a human, economic, and environmental level. These events have been accompanied by a reactive increase in flood-related laws and regulation, both in Houston and Harris County and in the State legislature. Scholarly studies have investigated rainfall in Harris County and concluded that Houston is experiencing extreme events with higher precipitation than ever before (Statkewicz, et al, 2021). Further research has investigated recent flood-related legislation and escalated flood spending in Texas. While these studies scrutinize storms and their effects independently from each other, no research has unpacked the complex relationship between disastrous flood events and governmental responses. With the intention of filling this gap, this paper conducts an inquiry into the effects of floods in the Greater Houston area on three levels of government in Texas and analyzes the mediated relationships between the events and legislative-regulatory outcomes.


This paper first addresses the geography, frequency of flood events in the region, and the impact of climate change on weather patterns. The literature review and primary resources are combined into three case studies examining governmental reactions to three events in a seven-year period:​​ The Memorial Day Flood in 2015, Hurricane Harvey in 2017, and Tropical Storm Imelda in 2019. The events were selected for their respective significance in terms of costs and damages, their occurrence during biennial legislative sessions, and for their direct impact on subsequent legislation.

Following a detailed review of the secondary literature, primary source legislative analysis, and three exploratory interviews, two political and policy experts were selected for interview. The primary data was collected via semi-structured interviews to go beyond the scholarly literature and expand upon significant findings.  Interviews were conducted on April 1st, 2022, with Texas State Senator Brandon Creighton of District 4, and on April 3rd, 2022, with Dr. Phillip Bedient, Professor of Environmental Engineering and Director of the Severe Storm Prediction, Education, & Evacuation from Disasters Center (SSPEED) at Rice University. Preliminary interviews for topic consultation and pre-research were also conducted with Tessa Crosby, a Rice University PhD candidate in environmental engineering, Rex Harris, a Houston lawyer, and with the researcher’s Honors College peer mentor.

Literature review and Case Analysis
The Greater Houston region is situated largely within a natural wetland and much of the land is inclined to hold water. The county is situated on a web of low elevation bayous and creeks, and their respective watersheds provide most of the water drainage to the Gulf (Blackburn p. 4). Many of these creeks and bayous have watersheds that are contained within Harris County, and their low-elevation and interconnection with other watercourses means that water levels rise easily during episodes of heavy rain ( p.4).

Houston’s flatness and reliance on low-lying bayous for drainage makes it highly susceptible to flood events, which are increasing in frequency. A 2021 study of Houston discovered a clear upward trend in wet days (in terms of frequency and average precipitation) over a three-decade period between 1989 and 2018 and concluded that the number of dry days (measured by a total absence of rainfall) were decreasing (Statkewicz, et al, 2021).  Moreover, the research found that dry days tended to fall in drought spells, suggesting that extreme rainfall amounts in shorter periods of time may be becoming the new normal for this area. According to the researchers, “the increasing trend of 6.6 mm in annual totals most likely owes itself to the increase in extreme events exhibited (e.g., Memorial Day flood, 2015; Tax Day flood, 2016; Hurricane Harvey, 2017)” (Statkewicz, et al, 2021).

In addition to the data presented by Statkewicz et al, the severity of rainfall events is apparent in the amount of funds spent on flood-specific disaster recovery. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA), 2021 is the “seventh consecutive year (2015-2021) in which 10 or more-billion-dollar weather and climate disaster incidents have impacted the United States” (NOAA, 2022). Figure 1 below shows inflation-adjusted data from NOAA between 1980-2021. The data reveal that between 2015–2021, tropical cyclone and inland flooding events increased in frequency and resulted in a cost of over $200 billion in damages in Texas alone (NOAA, 2022).

Figure 1 NOAA, Time Series Chart. Texas Flood and Tropical Cyclone events.

Figure 1 NOAA, Time Series Chart. Texas Flood and Tropical Cyclone events.

A report by the Texas State Water Development Board (TWDB) notes that weather changes in Greater Houston were responsible for a 2018 update to the NOAA’s eleventh volume of Atlas 14, the official advisory guide for estimated rainfall amounts per location in the U.S. which serves as a basis for many disaster-readiness plans at state and local levels in Texas (TWDB). The 2018 update, which was included due to Harvey’s extreme rainfall, adds five inches to the 1% annual chance for 24-hour events in Houston (TWDB). This effectively changes the boundaries of the pre-existing 100-year floodplain in Houston.

Case 1: The Memorial Day Flood, 05/25/2015

The Memorial Day flood began on May 25th, 2015, during a long period of rainfall over Harris County. Although the average rainfall across the area was only 5.3 inches, 162 billion gallons of water fell into reservoirs and waterways that were already swollen from previous rainfall (Talbott). Michael D. Talbott, the Executive Director of the Harris County Flood Control District at the time, reported that a Flash Flood Emergency was issued by the National Weather service in Harris County for the first time during this event and warnings were delivered to the affected areas. However, despite the warning, the sudden floods and inundated waterways and roadways caused the deaths of eight people in the Greater Houston area. The Housing and Community Development Department of Houston states on their website that the event was immediately declared a federal disaster by President Obama, and Houston was granted $87 million in federal funds for recovery (HCDD).

The Memorial Day Flood took place during the last days of the eighty-fourth regular session of the Texas Legislature and consequentially, legislators were able to act immediately on state-level disaster relief. House Bill 6, which pertains to state budget arrangements, was amended only days after the Memorial Day Flood. The added amendment, proposed by (then) Senator Kirk Watson of senate district 14, which was hit hard by flooding, reads as follows:

On September 1, 2015, the Floodplain Management Account…is re-created by this Act as a special fund in the state treasury outside the general revenue fund, and all revenue dedicated for deposit to the credit of the Floodplain Management Account… is rededicated by this Act for that purpose, except that revenue deposited to the Floodplain Management Account may be transferred to the Disaster Contingency Fund No.i453 to be used for extraordinary costs associated with flood risk analysis, planning, and public education (HB 6).

The bill allowed for the floodplain management account (issued in 2007) to be re-created. The new separate account permitted all estimated revenue for future years 2016 and 2017 to be transferred to the Disaster Contingency Fund (DCF) in September 2015 (HB 6).

The State decision to transfer future revenue ultimately impacted smaller local government efforts, as money from the DCF was used in fund-matched grants for flood mitigation projects by the TWDB one year later. In August of 2016, the TWDB approved a sum of $3.5 million dollars to be used for flood improvement projects in seventeen affected areas, many of which lie adjacent to or within Harris County (Munguia, 2016). Of this amount, $1.5 million was transferred directly from the Disaster Contingency Fund (Munguia, 2016). According to TWDB board member Kathleen Jackson, the program’s “combination of statewide and local efforts allows the TWDB to capitalize on the strength of both to maximize flood outreach across the state” (Munguia, 2016). This statement highlights the state and local government’s efforts to collaborate on flood protection efforts following 2015, signaling a noticeable move towards greater state responsibility for localized events.

In Houston, the disastrous flooding revealed the need for a specialized officer to preside over flood mitigation and recovery efforts. In 2016, Mayor Sylvester Turner created a new office for the city and hired Stephen Costello as the city’s first Chief Resilience Officer, a position colloquially dubbed “flood czar” by the media. This position would, in Turner’s words, “serve as the City’s focal point for integrating regional resiliency efforts in the Houston area” (“Imelda Assistance Fund”). Also in Houston, 10 million dollars in the form of the Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery 2015 (CDBG-DR15) Action Plan was granted through the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development to the city (“Houston Action Plan”). The grant sponsored the Houston Strategic Buyout Program, part of which was created in 2016 in direct response to the flooding sustained by Houston during 2015 (“Houston Action Plan”). This program was designed to offer voluntary buyouts of properties that suffered repeated flooding and provide funding for the rehabilitation of any homes or properties deemed rebuildable. However, according to data from FEMA, as analyzed by NPR, the City of Houston had only bought out seventy-five homes by 2016 following the multiple flood disasters (“Response”).

The sluggish action demonstrated by the buyout program illustrates an observation offered by Professor Bedient; the processes of government are generally slow and difficult (personal interview, Apr 4, 2022). In the case of the buyouts, Response to and Recovery from Disasters further explains the implications and structure of the buyout plan, which impedes timely action. The article states that, “the average buyout takes longer than five years [to complete] and only one in five typically qualifies.” Moreover, the buyout option can only benefit property owners directly, so “if multi-family properties are bought out, the funds go to the owners, and tenants are required to leave” (“Response”). The length of time required to close the sale plus the risk of inadvertently causing the displacement of tenants, puts a damper on the buyout program and limits its effectiveness (“Response”).

Case 2: Hurricane Harvey, 08/26/2017

Hurricane Harvey is central to this research, as the breadth of its destruction and flooding across the Greater Houston area has had the most far-reaching impact on all governing bodies in Texas during the period of study. On August 26th, 2017, Harvey made landfall as a category 4 hurricane, and the storm broke all previous records for U.S. rainfall in one event, with parts of Houston reporting nearly fifty-two inches of rain (FEMA). Of the thousands of houses flooded, 23,000 were under more than 5 feet of water according to a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) report issued in September 2017 (FEMA). This storm provided a unique challenge to the Greater Houston area, for, although the previous storms had prompted some reactive changes, the sheer volume of water overpowered the city. Following the storm, an outpouring of efforts at flood mitigation gained traction in the halls of state and local government.

This reactive push to improve infrastructure was exemplified by the Brays Bayou project in Meyerland. According to Bedient (2022) the area has a long history of flooding caused by the bayou and had been undergoing an infrastructure improvement project that had “languished” since 2001. The Brays Bayou project is a joint effort between the Harris County Flood Control District and the Army Corps of Engineers, with both entities financially invested in its progress (“C-11 Project Brays”). Although Meyerland was badly affected by every storm since 2015, progress remained slow, and Harvey caught Meyerland with very little improvement to infrastructure (Bedient, 2022). However, due to the reactive nature of the governmental process and Harvey’s disastrous effect on the unimproved area, money to complete the project was allocated following the President’s declaration of disaster (“C-11 Project Brays”). On the one-year anniversary of Harvey, the county approved a 2.5-billion-dollar bond program to improve county infrastructure. This bond program, as reported by the Harris County Flood Control District, is currently contributing to multiple projects with a combined value of nearly $5 billion, including the Brays Bayou project. The county website states that, “When possible, Harris County Flood Control District will leverage the bond funding to participate in partnership programs that could bring in billions in additional partnership funding” (HCFCD). The publicly funded nature of these projects brought new partnerships across the federal, state, and private sectors.

By the following legislative session in 2019, lawmakers delivered flood-related bills in numbers greater than all bills pertaining to drought, which have historically been the dominant focus of weather-related legislation. Matthew Berg’s article for The Texas Water Journal in 2019, states that 128 bills mentioning the word “flood” were filed during this session and a total of 240 bills dealing in part or whole with floods were submitted (p. 2). In addition, a 71 percent majority of those bills were authored by representatives from districts that had increased annual precipitation rates in Atlas 14’s 2018 update (Berg, 2019 p. 4). This overflow of disaster-conscious bills may have been necessitated by the massive events of the previous four years, but they were certainly rendered all the more urgent by the weather conditions immediately preceding the session. Berg (2019) states, “the 6 months leading up to the session were the wettest July-December period ever recorded in Texas” (p.. 2, 2019). This increase in wet-weather-aware legislation included historic changes for the state.

During the 86th legislature, Texas assigned the task of creating a state-wide flood management plan to the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB). The task was accomplished by senate bills (SB) 7 and 8. SB 8 is discussed at length by Peter Lake, the former Chairman of the TWDB, in a 2019 article published in the Texas Water Journal. The article details that, while the creation of the SFP is a new milestone in government collaboration, it is based on the structure of an already time-tested statewide planning tool: the State Water Plan (SWP) (Texas Water Development Board). The TWDB has managed the SWP, which focuses on drought supply, since its creation in 1957 and has handled flood mitigation in a fractured capacity as the state’s National Flood Insurance Program coordinator and through its work with FEMA as grant administrator (Lake, 2019, p.59). Peter Lake (2019) states that the new SFP will rely on three “pillars” of flood-fighting: Mapping, Planning, and Mitigation (p. 61). Mapping entails updates to the Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRMs) for each county. Lake writes that, “as of 2018, the average age of Texas floodplain maps was 13 years old,” and considering the evidence suggesting a change to precipitation rates and frequency of extreme rainfall events, maps that are a decade old are no longer relevant to the mitigation efforts and must be updated (p. 61).

Additionally, planning coordinates the organization of local, county, and state projects into a unified plan. In accordance with SB 8, the TWDB created fifteen Regional Flood Planning Groups (RFPGs) with committees for each. The regions are organized around watersheds, and their structure ensures upstream and downstream communication with stakeholders on every part of a connected waterway (Lake, (2019 p. 63). The RFPGs are entirely responsible for which projects are submitted to the SFP and, in Lake’s words, “The future of fighting floods in Texas will be built from the ground up by the people who are most directly impacted by floods in their unique corner of the state” (p. 63). Ultimately, the planning pillar’s outcome is entirely decided by the local shareholders in the region, and the TWDB has no influence beyond the creation of the groups.

Finally, the mitigation pillar entails funding studies and projects to alleviate the effects of major flood events (Lake, 2019, p. 61). Funding projects will involve coordination between the state, private companies, and the federal government. SB7 provided the necessary funding for the SFP to begin to work. After SB7 was passed, House Joint Resolution 4, known as Proposition 8, was added to create the Flood Infrastructure Fund. Voters “enshrined the FIF in the Texas Constitution so it will exist in perpetuity, outside of normal budget cycles and fiscal year limitations” (Lake, 2019, p. 64). The FIF was granted a one-time transfer of $793 million for grants and loans for eligible mitigation projects across the state (Lake, p. 64, 2019).

Regarding Senate Bill 7, Senator Creighton, the bill’s author, states, “There wasn’t up until this time [2019] a concerted effort…for the entire legislature to focus on such a huge response and long-term planning” (personal communication, April 1, 2022).  Because of Harvey, and the great costs to the state, the legislature was highly motivated to work together and collaborate on a solution (Creighton, 2022). Senate Bill 7, in addition to funding the FIF, includes provisions for state-sponsored federal disaster fund matching (SB 7).

Sec. 15.534.  USE OF INFRASTRUCTURE FUND [FIF]. (a)  The board may use the infrastructure fund only: 4. To make a grant to an eligible political subdivision [county or city] to provide matching funds to enable the eligible political subdivision to participate in a federal program for a flood project (SB 7).

In Creighton’s words (2022), Senate Bill 7 will “bring value to the entire state because it’s disaster related, not just flooding related.” The inclusion of other disaster events, including wildfires and tornadoes, transforms the bill from one that focuses on coastal or riverine areas (e.g., Harris County) to one that benefits the whole state and, therefore, garners greater political support (Creighton, 2022).

In addition to the large-scale statewide legislative changes brought about by Senate Bills 7 and 8, Texas also passed an amendment to the Water Code during the 86th session. Amendment 2, Section 12.052, subsection a, regulates the manner and procedure of emergency dam releases. The amendment requires the operator of a dam to notify downstream communities of an impending emergency water release, notify the public with details on the affected flood area, include a disclaimer in their announcement that protects the agency from accusations of false alert, and provide protection for the dams from admitting liability by following the amendment (HB 26.) This update unifies watersheds and requires full communication with every downstream community that will be affected by a dam release.

Writing in 2017, Jim Blackburn, Professor of Environmental Law, and Co-Director of SSPEED at Rice University in Houston, examines the policies in place immediately after Harvey and concludes that a lack of regulation is responsible for many of the worst outcomes of this historic event. One such outcome is the case of the federally managed Addicks and Barker dams and their reservoirs, which were built on the outskirts of Houston in 1948 by the Army Corps of Engineers and are now incorporated within city limits. During Hurricane Harvey, massive flood damage was sustained by uninsured homes built within the maximum flood level area of the reservoirs (Blackburn, 2017). Blackburn finds that the footprint of the reservoir was not maintained as a condemned area. Indeed, as the dams had been designed to assist the bayous by containing water during heavy rain and were never meant to hold water long-term, this may have led to the impression that the low-lying land above them was not in danger of flooding (Blackburn, 2017).

In addition to a possible misconception of the reservoir’s capacity, Diggs et al (2021) suggest a further reason for the lack of transparency for homeowners in the reservoirs; unless dictated by state law, the city government has ultimate authority over zoning decisions in its region, which may allow the city to pursue profit over safety (p. 15). In Houston’s case, the city allowed developers to build homes within the maximum level of the reservoirs without disclosing the threat of flood, resulting in the inundation of uninsured homes in 2017 (Blackburn, 2017). The extreme cost to homeowners and the lack of insurance on these homes coincides with a push in the state legislature to pass Senate Bill 339 and its companion, House Bill 3815, in 2019, requiring home sellers to disclose a property’s previous flood history and flood zone status to the buyer (SB 339, HB 3815).

Harvey’s direct effect on local government was wide-ranging, but one truly notable outcome for Houston occurred in 2018. Bedient (2022) references a mandate that was passed requiring new construction sites in the pre-NOAA Atlas 14 500-year flood zone to be elevated two feet above the floodplain (Cardenas & Formby, 2018). This decision was notable to Bedient, as it complicates the interests of what he referred to as a “developer owned city” by increasing the cost of building. Previously, only the 100-year flood zone was regulated, and the old zoning law required new homes to be raised just one foot above the floodplain (Cardenas and Formby, 2018). As the mandate was passed before the update to the NOAA’s Atlas 14, the Houston decision has increased the regulations in what must now be considered the equivalent to the pre-update 100-year zone. This revision, which predicts weather patterns based on updated research, has essentially expanded high-risk zones that were previously designated as 500-year zones (Bedient, 2022).

Case 3: Tropical storm Imelda, 09/17/2019

Tropical storm Imelda is a study in the drought-flood cycle in Texas. After the unprecedented wet weather preceding the 86th legislature, Texas and the south-eastern U.S. experienced record-setting heat, culminating in widespread “flash drought” conditions during September 2019 (Di Liberto, 2019). While the ground was baked dry and unabsorbent from drought, another catastrophic weather event hit the Houston/Harris County area. Imelda, a slow-moving tropical storm that became a tropical depression as it progressed inland, produced heavy rain and tornadoes across the state and into Oklahoma (Latto and Berg, p. 2, 2020). In their report for the National Hurricane Center, Andy Latto and Robbie Berg (2020) observed that, “The 44.29-inch peak rainfall total makes Imelda the 7th-wettest tropical cyclone…to impact the United States, the fifth wettest in the contiguous United States, and the fourth wettest in the state of Texas since 1940” (p. 5). While Jefferson County sustained the worst of the event, Harris County and Houston still experienced extreme flooding and two of five total flood-related deaths in Texas (p.5). The storm was declared a federal disaster by President Trump on October 1st, 2019.

Imelda prompted the collaboration of Harris County and Houston City governments. Immediately following the storm, Houston’s mayor Sylvester Turner and Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, in cooperation with the Greater Houston Community Foundation (GHCF), set up an emergency fund to aid non-profits in their services to affected people. This fund was necessary and timely. A survey administered by GHCF immediately following the storm reported that of “2076 homes in Harris County [that] were damaged as a result of Tropical Storm Imelda…1,054 of those homes do not have flood insurance” (Greater Houston Community Foundation, 2019). Interestingly, a finding reported in the GHCF’s 2019 Imelda survey revealed that nearly half of the respondents were renters. The flooding had affected 1339 homeowners and 702 renters in Harris County, as reported in the survey as of October 21st, 2019 (Greater Houston Community Foundation, 2019). These numbers and the demographics they represent are highly relevant when considering legislation passed during the 87th session.

Passed during the 87th legislature in 2021, House Bill 531 (effective January 1st, 2022) requires landlords to inform renters of the previous flood history for any rental property in a 100-year flood zone (HB 531).  Previously in 2019, Senate Bill 339 and its companion House Bill 3815 created the legal requirement for property sellers to inform prospective buyers of the home’s location in a 100-year flood plain. HB 531 adds rental owners and expands the disclosure requirement to the 500-year zone. Despite the straightforward appearance of this bill, it has critics among groups promoting housing equality. In Houston Public Media’s (HPM) review of incoming laws in late 2021, the bill was viewed as both potentially positive and potentially negative. HPM reported that the bill places the responsibility of insurance on the inhabitant of the property, i.e., the renter, and the landlord has no responsibility beyond informing the tenant of the 100-year zone location and notifying the tenant that renter’s insurance does not cover floods (Fogel, et al, 2021). This incurs an extra cost to the tenant, as they must pay for both renter’s insurance and a flood insurance policy.

While Imelda had less visible impact on subsequent acts of government, it serves as a sharp reminder of increased volatility in Texas weather patterns over the last seven years. According to Bedient (2022), despite the billions in damages and floodwater intrusion into the 500-year zone, research on the acceleration of weather conditions places Imelda within the bounds of “normal” weather patterns. He states that in Houston, the damage from the storm was overshadowed by that of Harvey, and it was ultimately viewed by weather experts as simply “another one” in an expected series of unusual and harsh storms ( Bedient,2022).  Although experts were not surprised by Imelda, it demonstrated the ferocity of the predicted new normal for the area.

Analysis and Conclusions

Although Imelda shocked and devastated parts of Texas, flooded 500-year zones, and even exceeded Harvey in terms of short-term rainfall, it seems to have had relatively little impact on the 2021 legislative session. Senator Creighton’s response to this omission made clear that legislators inevitably focus on the most pressing agenda items. Beyond the overarching issues that have the potential to change legislative priorities under emergency conditions, are shifts in the immediate needs of constituents, which can lessen the urgency of flood mitigation efforts

( Creighton, 2022). Creighton (2022) illustrated this point by stating that, “every blue-sky day, there’s an issue …that takes money away from continuing to solve the flood mitigation problems, because it’s been a week. It’s been a year. It’s been three years [since the last flood disaster]. It’s not on everyone’s mind.”

Texas has gone through several major focus-shifting disasters since 2015. At the end of the 86th session, legislators were already forming new plans for the next session and deciding agendas (Creighton, 2022). However, many of those agendas were adjusted with the global COVID-19 crisis, and the shutdown interrupted much of the usual state process as well as rearranging budgetary priorities (Creighton, 2022). According to Creighton (2022), the pandemic is a prime example of “when an issue is controlling us instead of our preferences on what priorities might be,” and in his experience, after the struggles through 2020, the public’s concern with flooding has been eclipsed by the pandemic.

In addition to the pandemic and the challenges it presented to Texas legislators, in the middle of February 2021, an unprecedented deep freeze (winter storm Uri) brought the state to a standstill as millions of Texans lost power and water. Creighton cites this, along with the pandemic, as two major reasons for the shift in attention. He observed that “elected officials get distracted very easily, depending on the hot button issues of the day” as the immediate demands of the of the moment supersede longer-term goals (Creighton, 2022). This, along with his statement regarding the memory of the public for flood issues, provides an interesting insight into the challenge of flood legislation; with so much competition of needs and so many demands, can significant proactive measures sustain the necessary momentum to reach fruition?

Senator Creighton offered the following explanation of the public’s role in legislative priorities:

The fascinating thing about Texas is that we are usually either in a drought or a flood.… So, we’ve been really looking into flood mitigation solutions at sort of an unprecedented level because of…the recent and consistent severity [of storms in the last 7 years]. The public…does not have a short memory on flooding events. And so, when the public stays motivated…[and] loud and channels the urgency towards the elected officials to continue to keep the issue of flooding as a top priority, the elected officials listen and respond. The consistency of the floods has caused people to not just forget about it once it’s happened; and because they don’t forget about it, and they stay motivated ( Creighton, 2022).

That said, Texas is a diverse state, and the interests of its people are diffused across a plethora of non-flood related issues. Poll data from the University of Texas in the year following hurricane Harvey showed a systematic decrease in urgency regarding hurricane recovery across the state as time progressed.

Figure 2 Texas Tribune Poll data, hurricane recovery Oct 2017-2018.

Figure 2 Texas Tribune Poll data, hurricane recovery Oct 2017-2018.

Figure 2 shows the ranking of hurricane recovery as a state priority. Recovery was the third priority for respondents one month after the flood yet fell to sixteenth place by the one-year mark (University of Texas & Texas Tribune, 2018). In the relatively quiet year following Harvey, the urgency of hurricane flooding rapidly abated.

Yet the frequency, devastation, and cost of flood events will continue to pressure state lawmakers to invest in statewide mitigation strategies ( Creighton, 2022). While Creighton (2022) accepts that “blue sky days” derail long-term planning, Bedient notes that mild periods will be fewer and farther apart owing the changed weather cycle. The “blue sky days” referred to by Creighton are becoming punctuated by more extreme events, focusing the public mind on high-priority flood initiatives. This, coupled with Creighton’s statement that public priorities ultimately drive the actions of elected officials, suggests that flood-affected residents may be increasingly likely to keep their representatives on-task (Creighton, 2022). Naturally, this depends on new, salient issues not redirecting public attention and budgetary priorities, something that will be challenging as federal and state partisan agenda and election cycles present ongoing barriers to long-term proactive planning.

The overall source of motivation noted throughout this research has been reactivity; as events happened, alterations to plans and budgets have responded after the fact. However, the investigation has also shown some movement towards the greater anticipation of and planning for floods by local governments as well as at the state level. Paramount here is the increasing need for more inter-governmental collaboration in the flood planning process, something that has long been the responsibility of local government agencies. The willingness of Texas citizens to cede some aspects of local power to the state appears to have increased with the volume of flood events and is a noteworthy phenomenon in such a historically fractured state. For example, voter results from the 2019 constitutional amendment election show that most Texans supported the funding of the FIF from the state rainy day fund. Not surprisingly, Jefferson County, which was hit hardest by Imelda two months prior, offered overwhelming support for the proposition: of 11,816 total votes, only 1,273 opposed the FIF (Texas Election Results, 2020). In addition, the results by county show that even the counties furthest from obvious flood hazards voted in favor of the fund (Texas Election Results, 2020). The FIF was passed with a statewide majority in November 2019, suggesting that although other priorities superseded flooding for the public, lawmakers were able to remind the voters of its importance at the ballot box.

While funding flood mitigation efforts is essential, organizational hurdles also impact the coordination and implementation of remediation strategies. Departments within municipalities may be reluctant to work together or share research. Especially in Houston, which has over 100 independent Municipal Utility Districts operating in the city, communication and decision-making is hindered by the sheer numbers of competing interests. Flooding and its relation to law-making in Texas is a multiforked issue that requires substantial communication between numerous governmental agencies.

As previously noted, voters may be increasingly acceptant of flood intervention measures from state government. In Creighton’s words, “There’s been an increase in the scale of the bills that we’ve addressed… [They are] larger statewide policies that address major flooding solutions” (Creighton, 2022). He further noted, “the funding has been at a heightened level.” The senator also expressed an expectation for this level of involvement to continue; “One of the things that has come out of these huge damaging floods is that legislators and organizations are now more in tune with flooding.” This “in tune” relationship may foster proactive efforts, as “departments are interested and aware of the long-term nature of the problems” (Bedient, 2022).

While the increase in awareness is reassuring, it also creates intra- and inter-governmental challenges. Although Texas has seen an increase in federal funds, there is a hurdle to their proactive use due to their partisan allocation. The Republican-led Texas General Land Office dispenses federal aid for counties and municipalities. However, the office has apparently snubbed many larger and more diverse areas in favor of less needy Republican counties. Following Harvey, Federal emergency funds for Texas were granted with a HUD recommendation that the 20 worst affected counties receive priority—typically large coastal areas with diverse demographics and Democratic Party majorities (Despart, 2022). Acting within its rights, the GLO added 29 less impacted counties to the HUD list that are farther inland and with much smaller, whiter, and Republican voting populations (Despart, 2022).

Figure 3 below shows the distribution of funding between the HUD counties and the GLO counties using data from the GLO and the 2020 census (Despart, 2022).  The payment of 1.2 billion dollars ultimately showed extraordinary favoritism.

Figure 3 Fund distribution across HUD and GLO chosen Counties in Texas. Credit: Carla Astudillo, Texas Tribune.

Figure 3 Fund distribution across HUD and GLO chosen Counties in Texas.
Credit: Carla Astudillo, Texas Tribune.

About 800 million dollars of the fund was allocated to Harris County and around 400 million to the GLO counties, with less densely populated areas receiving substantially more money per resident than larger, diverse counties (Despart, 2022). Indeed, despite its centrality to the issue, Harris County was completely excluded from an initial payment of funds by the GLO: only after an extreme outcry was it granted nine percent of the 1-billion-dollar payout granted in 2021 (Despart, 2022). The partisan and political nature of fund granting, as practiced by the GLO, is undoubtedly a deterrent to proactivity and trust within intragovernmental agencies.

While political boundaries are a significant hinderance to proactively addressing the “long term” issues identified by Bedient (2022), some anticipatory initiatives to flood mitigation can be found at both the local and statewide level. On April 26th, 2022, Houston Community College (HCC) announced its plan for a $30 million flood disaster training facility (McGee, 2022). This facility is a true collaboration of state, national, and local powers and shows foresight for preparation, while also being consistent with Texas’ desire to address public needs through private enterprise. The HCC initiative may be indicative of a policy shift in Houston; one that demonstrates a general admission of evermore frequent flood events and a willingness to prepare for them proactively. That said, the political and organizational barriers to statewide proactive policymaking remain high, and Texas has a history of reactive and incomplete initiatives when it comes to flood preparedness. The challenge for Texas will be how to deliver coordinated and funded proactive measures in the face of organizational, political, and partisan divides across state and local governments.

Works Cited

Bedient, Phillip. (2022) Personal Interview.

Berg, M. D. (2020) “Policy Review: State Legislature, Voters Move to Eighty-Six Texas’s Flooding Challenges.” Texas Water Journal, 11( 1) 1-14 doi:1

Blackburn, J. (2017) “Living With Houston Flooding.” Rice University., James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy of Rice University. scholarship.rice.edu/bitstream/handle/1911/99717/bi-pub-livingfloodinghouston-120617_kF7klri.pdf?sequence=1.

Cardenas, C, & Formby, B. (2018) “Houston City Council Approves Changes To Floodplain Regulations In Narrow Vote.” The Texas Tribune.  www.texastribune.org/2018/04/04/houston-city-council-approves-changes-floodplain-regulations-narrow-vo.

“C-11 Project Brays.” (n.d.) Harris County Flood Control District, http://www.hcfcd.org/Activity/Active-Projects/Brays-Bayou/C-11-Project-Brays.

Creighton, B. (2022) Personal Interview.

Despart, Z. (2022). New Texas plan for federal Harvey aid again diverts money away from coast. The Texas Tribune. https://www.texastribune.org/2022/05/16/texas-harvey-disaster-aid-land-office/

Diggs, J, Mikolajczyk, S., Naismith, L., Reed, M., & Smith, R. (2021) “Flood Management in Texas: Planning for the Future.” Texas A&M Law Scholarship, Texas A&M University School of Law Program in Natural Resources Systems,scholarship.law.tamu.edu/nrs-publications/11.

Di Liberto, T. (2019) “Flash drought engulfs the U.S. southeast in September 2019” | NOAA Climate.gov. https://www.climate.gov/news-features/event-tracker/flash-drought-engulfs-us-southeast-september-2019

FEMA. (2017) “Historic Disaster Response to Hurricane Harvey in Texas.” FEMA.Gov http://www.fema.gov/press-release/20210318/historic-disaster-response-hurricane-harvey-texas.

Fogel, B., Leahy, J., & Love, C. (2022) “Texas Landlords Will Have to Disclose Flood Risk to Renters. That’s One of 23 New Laws Going into Effect Jan. 1.” Houston Public Media, http://www.houstonpublicmedia.org/articles/news/politics/2021/12/30/416404/texas-landlords-will-have-to-disclose-flood-risk-to-renters-thats-one-of-23-new-laws-going-into-effect-jan-1.

Greater Houston Community Foundation. (2019). “Imelda Assistance Fund –.” GHCF, ghcf.org/imelda.

Harris County Flood Control District. (2018). “2018 Bond Program.” Harris County Flood Control District, http://www.hcfcd.org/2018-bond-program.

Housing and Community Development Department. (n.d.) “Housing and Community Development Department-Disaster Recovery.” City of Houston Texas, houstontx.gov/housing/dr.html#dr15.

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“Imelda Survey- Resources + Data for Partners.” (2019)Tropical Storm Imelda Needs Assessment Survey. http://www.imeldasurvey.com/data.

Lake, P. (2021)“Texas Reimagines the Fight Against Floods”. Texas Water Journal, 12( 1), 58-67, doi:10.21423/twj.v12i1.7133.

Latto, A., & Berg, R. (2020) “TROPICAL STORM IMELDA (AL112019) 17–19 September 2019.” National Hurricane Center Tropical Cyclone Report, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. http://www.nhc.noaa.gov/data/tcr/AL112019_Imelda.pdf

McGee, K. (2022, April 26). Houston Community College unveils plan for $30 million resiliency center. The Texas Tribune. https://www.texastribune.org/2022/04/26/houston-community-college-resiliency-center-disasters/

Munguia, L. (2016)“$3.5 Million in Flood Protection Grants Approved by the TWDB | Texas Water Newsroom.” The Texas Water Newsroom, Texas Water Development Board (TWDB). texaswaternewsroom.org/pressreleases/2016-08-25_flood.html.

National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI). (2022). “Billion-Dollar Weather and Climate Disasters.” National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI). http://www.doi.org/10.25921/stkw-7w73.   www.ncdc.noaa.gov/billions/time-series/TX

“Imelda Assistance Fund Announces Advisory Board and Grant Committee Members.” (2019) City of Houston Texas. http://www.houstontx.gov/mayor/press/imelda-advisory-board.html.

“Response to and Recovery From Disasters – Buyouts.” (2019) Understanding Houston. http://www.understandinghouston.org/topic/disasters/response-recovery#local_response.

State Flood Assessment.(2019). “Report to The 86th State Legislature.” Texas Flood Assessment, Texas Water Development Board. texasfloodassessment.org/doc/State-Flood-Assessment-report-86th-Legislation.pdf.

Statkewicz, M. D., Talbot, R., & Rappenglueck, B. (2021)“Changes in Precipitation Patterns in Houston, Texas.” Environmental Advances, vol. 5, p100073. Science Direct,  doi.org/10.1016/j.envadv.2021.100073.

Talbott, M. (2015)“2015 Memorial Day Flood in Harris County, Texas.” University of Houston, Cullen College of Engineering – The Texas Hurricane Center for Innovative Technology (THC-IT),  hurricane.egr.uh.edu/sites/hurricane.egr.uh.edu/files/files/2015/1-2015-MEMORIAL-DAY-FLOOD-8-4-2015.pdf.

Texas Election Results. (2019)”Texas constitutional amendment election, 2019. Proposition 8.” Results.texas-election.com, Office of the Secretary of State, Mar 24, 2020, results.texas-election.com/contestdetails?officeID=100008&officeName=STATE%20OF%20TEXAS%20PROPOSITION%208:%20%20THE%20CONSTITUTIONAL%20AMENDMENT%20PROVIDING%20FOR%20THE%20CREATION%20OF%20THE%20FLOOD%20INFRASTRUCTURE%20FUND%20TO%20ASSIST%20IN%20THE%20FINANCING%20OF%20DRAINAGE,%20FLOOD%20MITIGATION,%20AND%20FLOOD%20CONTROL%20PROJECTS.%0D%0A&officeType=STATEWIDE%20PROPOSITIONS&from=race.

Texas State, Legislature. House Bill 26. (2019) Texas State Legislature.  capitol.texas.gov/tlodocs/86R/billtext/html/HB00026F.HTM

Texas State, Legislature. House Bill 3815. (2019)Texas State Legislature.   capitol.texas.gov/BillLookup/History.aspx?LegSess=86R&Bill=HB3815

Texas State, Legislature. House Bill 531 (2021). Texas State Legislature.  capitol.texas.gov/BillLookup/History.aspx?LegSess=87R&Bill=HB531

Texas State, Legislature. Senate Bill 339. (2019)Texas State Legislature.  capitol.texas.gov/BillLookup/History.aspx?LegSess=86R&Bill=SB339

Turner, S. (2016) “2016 State of The City Speech.” City of Houston Texas, 4 May 2016, http://www.houstontx.gov/mayor/2016stateofthecity.html

University of Texas and Texas Tribune. (2018) “Texas Statewide Survey, February 2018.” Texaspolitics.utexas,https://texaspolitics.utexas.edu/sites/texaspolitics.utexas.edu/files/201802_poll_toplines.pdf

University of Texas and Texas Tribune. (2018).“Texas Statewide Survey, June 2018” Texaspolitics.utexas. https://texaspolitics.utexas.edu/sites/texaspolitics.utexas.edu/files/201806_poll_uttt_toplines.pdf

University of Texas and Texas Tribune. (2017) “Texas Statewide Survey, October 2017.” Texaspolitics.utexas.

Click to access 201710_poll_toplines_final.pdf

University of Texas and Texas Tribune.(2018). “Texas Statewide Survey, October 2018.” Texaspolitics.utexas,texaspolitics.utexas.edu/sites/texaspolitics.utexas.edu/files/201810_poll_toplines_updated.pdf.

University of Texas and Texas Tribune. (2019) “Texas Statewide Survey, October 2019.” Texaspolitics.utexas,https://texaspolitics.utexas.edu/sites/texaspolitics.utexas.edu/files/201910_poll_toplines.pdf

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Richard Saettone

Within this original composition, Mr. Richard Saettone manages to capture the disturbing qualities of the mythological creature known as a Wendigo by composing an original work for solo violin. The musical narrative communicates Mr. Saettone’s understanding of musical form, harmony, melody, imagination, and extended techniques for the violin. “Dance of the Wendigo” captures the picturesque aesthetics of the late 19th / early 20th century, while making use of techniques formulated after the Second World War. The software used is MuseScore.    Martin Quiroga

Listen to Performance

Score Excerpt from "Dance of the Wendigo: Violin Sonata in D" by Richard Saettone.

Score Excerpt from “Dance of the Wendigo: Violin Sonata in D” by Richard Saettone.

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Michelle Ahrens

Cloning and Sequencing of a portion of a Capsicum chinense x Capsicum frutescens hybrid ghost pepper’s GAPDH gene (GAP C)


Background Information

The primary project of my Molecular Biology Techniques class, also known as BITC-2441, was to clone and sequence a plant chosen by student pairs to learn the genetic sequence of the glyceraldehyde-3-phophate cytosolase (GAPC) gene. This paper contains the results from ghost pepper, also known as ‘Bhut Jolokia’. Fresh ghost pepper was crushed, measured and a lysate generated following resuspension in buffers. 2 sequential PCR reactions, the first using degenerate primers and the second using primers directed against a highly conserved region of the GAPC gene, were done to amplify regions of GAPC. The expected DNA band was detected with gel electrophoresis. This PCR product was purified using size exclusion chromatography and spliced into E.coli HB101 plasmid. This plasmid was isolated from the bacteria and analyzed with gel electrophoresis. DNA samples were then Sanger sequenced using pJET (plasmid-specific) and pGAP (gene-specific) primers. The sequence was analyzed with Geneious Prime bioinformatics software.

Ghost pepper originates from northeastern India, a region known for its wide variety of extremely hot peppers and spicy cuisine. Other varieties include ‘Naga Jolokia’ and ‘Bih Jolokia’ (Bosland et al., 2007. 1). It is a cross between Capsicum chinense x Capsicum frutescens and has a Scoville Heat Unit (SHU) of 1,001,304. The cultivar is relatively well understood owing to a great deal of attention paid to it (Bosland et al., 2007, 1) by hot pepper aficianados.

The lab is trying to compare the Ghost pepper GAPC gene with that of other plants. There are many steps to cloning and sequencing genes of a plant. The primary reason the lab is important is due to contributing to the knowledge about GAPC within plants, in this case in ghost pepper. GAPC is a well-known housekeeping gene sequence within the Glyceraldehyde-3-phophate dehydrogenase (GAPDH) family that is conserved across many plant species, making it ideal for research (Bio Rad.com). Moreover, the portion of GAPC to be amplified encodes for two-thirds of the gene, including the enzyme’s active site. GAPC encodes for an NAD+-dependent cytostolic GAPDH (Bio Rad, 18). Furthermore, the GAPC gene of ghost pepper has never been sequenced before in BITC 2441 at Lone Star College.


The purpose of this experiment is to clone and sequence the GAPC gene of ghost pepper using primers directed highly conserved GAPC sequences.


If the instructions of the protocol are followed, the GAPC gene from ghost peppers will have more sequence similarities to the gene from closely related plants compared to more distantly related species.

Methods and Materials

Extracting gDNA

Prior to extraction, a ghost pepper plant was kept in the dark for 24-48 hours to maximize the cellular DNA. 200 ul of lysis buffer was added to a 1.5 ml microcentrifuge tube. Ghost pepper leaves were added to the lysis buffer and micro pestles were used to crush and lyse the cells. After a homogenous mixture was obtained, an additional 500 ul of lysis buffer was added. The tube was then centrifuged at full speed for 5 minutes. Afterwards, 400 ul of supernatant was removed and added to 500 ul 70% ethanol to create plant lysate. 800 ul of the resulting plant lysate supernatant was then added to a mini-column and centrifuged again. 700 ul of wash buffer was added and centrifuged and the resulting flowthrough was discarded. The wash process was repeated two more times. The column was transferred to a new microcentrifuge tube, 80 ul of 70C of sterile water was added and held for 1 minute to and then centrifuged. The eluate containing DNA was then collected and stored.

Amplifying GAPC region and assessing results with Gel Electrophoresis

To carry out the PCR with degenerate primers, the PCR tubes were put on ice and 20 ul of 2x Master Mix with Initial Primers (MMIP) was pipetted into each tube. Afterwards 15 ul of sterile water was added to each tube. Using a fresh tip each time, 5 ul each of negative control, pGAP, ghost pepper, Celosia, and Arabidopsis DNA templates were added to the tubes. The tubes were placed into a thermal cycler for 1 round of initial PCR.

This amplified gDNA was prepped for nested PCR by treating with 1 ul of exonuclease I to destroy the leftover degenerate primers from the initial reaction. The template DNA was incubated at 37C for 15 minutes and then 80C for another 15 minutes to heat-inactivate the exonuclease I enzyme. 98 ul of sterile water was added and an additional 2 ul of the appropriate initial PCR into the tubes was added. The tube was then vortexed and placed on ice to keep cool. 20 ul of yellow master mix (2x MMNP) was pipetted into each PCR tube. The tubes were placed into the thermal cycler.

The results of both rounds of PCR were separated through agarose gel electrophoresis in a 1% gel. The gel lanes were run according to Figure 2: Lane 1 was loaded with the 500 base pair molecular ladder. 5 ul of gDNA and 1 ul of loading were loaded onto lanes 2 and 3. Lanes 4 and 5 were loaded with 20 ul of initial PCR reaction was transferred into a new tube along with 2 ul of loading dye. 5 ul of nested PCR and 1 ul of loading dye were added to lanes 6 and 7. Lane 8 was loaded with 20 ul of Arabidopsis gDNA and 2 ul loading dye were added to act as a control.

Purifying and ligating PCR product into a plasmid vector

The products of the nested PCR reaction were used for cloning of the amplified GAPC sequence into a sequence vector. Beads in the PCR spin column were resuspended. The cap of the spin column was snapped off and the column centrifuged for 2 minutes. 30 ul of yellow nested PCR reaction was added onto the column bed. The column was centrifuged for 2 minutes and supernatant collected.

The resulting supernatant with the amplified DNA were combined with 2x ligation reaction buffer, proofreading polymerase, 2 ul of blunting reaction and 1.5 ul of sterile water. The tubes within were centrifuged to force contents to the bottom and incubated in the thermocycler for 5 minutes at 70C, then cooled on ice for an additional 5 minutes. Centrifugation was applied to force contents to collect at the bottom. 9.0 ul of blunt reaction was added, followed by 0.5 ul of T4 DNA ligase and 0.5 ul pJet 1.2 blunted vector. The reaction was centrifuged to collect contents at the bottom of tube. The tube was incubated at room temperature for 5-10 minutes. The reaction tube was then stored at -20C until further use.


10 ul of E. coli HB 101 was streaked via the quadrant method onto a LB plate. This was then incubated at 37C overnight and then stored at 4C until the day of the lab.

1.5 ml of C-growth medium was pipetted into a 15 ml culture tube and warmed for 10 minutes at 37C. 150 ul of fresh starter culture prepared from the starter plate was then pipetted into the C-growth medium. Afterwards, 250 ul each of transformation reagents A and B from BioRad were combined into a separate microcentrifuge tube, kept on ice. After a 20-40 minute incubation, the C-growth culture was transferred to a new microcentrifuge tube. This was centrifuged at 17,000 rpm for 1 minute and put on ice. The resulting supernatant was removed without disturbing the bacterial pellet. This pellet was resuspended with 300 ul of cold transformation buffer. It was then incubated on ice for 5 minutes and immediately centrifuged for 1 minute. The supernatant was removed. 120 ul of cold transformation buffer was added and kept on ice for 5 minutes. The cells were now competent for transformation.

5 ul of ligated plasmid were added to the 50 ul competent cells and mixed by pipetting twice. The tube was incubated on ice for 10 minutes. The entire volume of transformation was pipetted onto an LB Amp IPTG plate warmed at 37C. An inoculation loop was used to gently spread the bacteria around the plate. It was immediately placed upside down in an incubator at 37C until the bacterial colonies were apparent. This plate was used to inoculate four tubes of LB/AMP broth (20 ml LB broth and 100 ul ampicillin).

Isolating Plasmid from Bacteria

1.5 ml of miniprep culture of transformed E. coli was transferred into a microcentrifuge tube and centrifuged. The supernatant was removed without disturbing the pellet. This process was repeated two more times. 250 ul of resuspension solution was added and the mixture vortexed. Another 250 ul of lysis buffer was added and the tube inverted 6-8 times. 350 ul of neutralization solution was added within 5 minutes and then gently inverted 6-8 times. The tube was centrifuged for 5 minutes. The resulting supernatant was added onto a spin column spun for 1 minute at top speed. The flowthrough was discarded. Subsequently, 750 ul of wash solution was added to the column and centrifuged for 1 minute. Flowthrough was discarded and the column was centrifuged for 1 minute to dry. The column was transferred to a new tube and 100 ul of elution solution was added to the column. The solution was allowed to settle for 1-2 minutes. The column was centrifuged for 2 minutes. The column was discarded, and the sample capped. The miniprep DNA was stored at -20C until further use.

Miniprep DNA was analyzed by restriction digestion with Bgl II. 10 ul of plasmid DNA was combined with 10 ul 2x Bgl ll master mix (2 ul 10x Bgl II reaction buffer, 7 ul sterile water and 1 ul of Bgl II enzyme). Reactions were incubated at 37C for 1 hour. The samples were analyzed by 1% agarose gel electrophoresis: 10 ul of 500 bp molecular ladder was added to Lane 1. 5 ul of undigested DNA was combined with 15 ul of sterile water in a separate tube to compare digested DNA.1 ul of 6x loading dye was added to each of the digested and undigested samples. Immediately afterwards, 20 ul of each DNA sample was added to each well. The gel was run at 100 Mv and the results are shown in Figure 5.

Sequencing DNA and performing bioinformatics

10 ul of miniprep DNA were combined with 1 ul of each sequencing primer. The mixture was added to assigned wells on the 96-well plate. The plate was sent to BioRad for Sanger sequencing. The resulting sequence data were analyzed with Geneious Prime bioinformatics software.


DNA Preparation

Figure 1.a shows the yield of crushed ghost pepper plant leaf material was prepared from ghost pepper leaves. Figure 1.b shows the 60-80 ul of genomic DNA solution extracted from the DNA material.

Figure 1.a -0.0958 mg of crushed young ghost pepper leaves was utilized for the extraction of gDNA

Figure 1.a -0.0958 mg of crushed young ghost pepper leaves was utilized for the extraction of gDNA

Figure 1.b- Extracted gDNA lysate result, the result of extracting gDNA from the ghost pepper leaves

Figure 1.b- Extracted gDNA lysate result, the result of extracting gDNA from the ghost pepper leaves


The results are shown in Figure 2 from left to right. PCR was done at an early stage to determine the presence of GAPDH genes in the various products and Arabidopsis was utilized to further measure the presence and intensity of PCR products since it has been thoroughly sequenced in many laboratories.

Figure 2. Amplification of GAPDH. Lane 1: 500 bp molecular ladder. Lane 2: Ghost pepper gDNA. Lane 5: Ghost Pepper initial PCR. Lane 7: Ghost Pepper Nested PCR. Lane 8: Arabidopsis control.

Figure 2. Amplification of GAPDH. Lane 1: 500 bp molecular ladder. Lane 2: Ghost pepper gDNA. Lane 5: Ghost Pepper initial PCR. Lane 7: Ghost Pepper Nested PCR. Lane 8: Arabidopsis control.

The LB AMP IPTG plate below was inoculated with competent cells that had the PCR products inserted into them. Colonies were selected that could grow in Ampicillin-indicating uptake of plasmid ampicillin gene and GAPC gene. However, to maximize the chances for colonies to grow, Tube 1 and 3 were inoculated with colonies from my own plate while 2 and 4 were inoculated with a different plate’s E. coli. 1 and 3 were the ones showing signs of heavy and cloudy growth. Tubes 2 and 4 were clear and showed no signs of growth. Inoculated 2 and 4 again with plate this time. Nonetheless, the plates that were inoculated again showed no growth, indicating that the previous cells used up all nutrients and the new inoculation was unable to grow and take hold.

Figure 3 Inoculated plate that was used to inoculate Tubes 1 and 3.

Figure 3 Inoculated plate that was used to inoculate Tubes 1 and 3.

Figure 4 E. coli culture was used to inoculate tube 1 and became cloudy, indicating growth.

Figure 4 E. coli culture was used to inoculate tube 1 and became cloudy, indicating growth.

PCR for Bgl II enzyme

Restriction digestion of GAPC construct was performed, with results shown in Figure 5. Digestion with Bgl II enzyme excised the PCR fragment. A single band shows that the enzyme was successfully digested. The presence of two bands in Lane 4 indicates the size of the vector and size of inserted DNA.

Figure 5 Results for BgII ezyme, from left to right. Lane 1: Empty. Lane 2: 500 bp ladder. Lane 3: Undigested enzyme. Lane 4: Digested enzyme.

Figure 5 Results for BgII ezyme, from left to right. Lane 1: Empty. Lane 2: 500 bp ladder. Lane 3: Undigested enzyme. Lane 4: Digested enzyme.

Bioinformatics sequence analysis

The sequences were sent away to be sequenced. Afterward, Geneious Prime bioinformatics software on Windows 10 was used to . The current results are shown in Figure 6 below and how far into sequencing and what needs to be done for a more complete picture.

Figure 6 Top results for Blastn in Geneious software

Figure 6 Top results for Blastn in Geneious software

One way to gain a more complete understanding is to compare the sequences that are most similar to the ghost pepper GAPC sequence with those lower in the list. As can be seen above, there were 5 results with an E value of 0. All of those were from the Solanum family.



The top 3 E-value results, which all have values of 0 indicating a perfect match, are Capsicum frutescens glyceraldehyde-3-phosphate dehydrogenase (GAPC), Solanum pinnatisectum, and Solanum melongena glyceraldehyde-3-phosphate dehydrogenase. The genus that the GAP C sequence shares the highest identity with is that of the Solanum family. Members of this family include tomatoes, potatoes, and eggplants.

An interesting thing to note is that no other pepper species were returned, indicating that the GAPC of this pepper species differed significantly from other previously sequenced pepper species.

Explanation of Conclusions

Several factors may explain these experimental results. The first two rounds of PCR, initial and nested, focused on amplifying portions of GAPC gene from gDNA of ghost pepper. With initial PCR a set of blue primers using multiple degenerate (less specific) sequences were utilized to amplify the GAPC gene from the gDNA. Exonuclease I was used to remove the primers from the initial PCR so that they do not amplify the target DNA. The enzyme was then inactivated. Then in the second round of PCR (nested) a more specific set of yellow primers were used to amplify the GAPC from the initial products. The PCR products from the initial round now contain a high proportion of GAPC-like sequences relative to the amount of gDNA. The results are shown in Figure 2. A 500 bp molecular ladder was used to measure target DNA. The gDNA show the brightest bands, which indicate the amount of DNA extracted from the first step. The initial PCR shows the denaturing of the DNA while the nested bands show that the amplification from the specific set of primers were successful. Arabidopsis was added because the plant also contains a GAPC region and yielded a single bright band as expected.

Bgl II sites were cut to separate insert DNA from plasmid DNA. Figure 5 demonstrates the results for Bgl II PCR. If the isolated plasma contains the insert of interest then there would be two bands, one containing excised PCR fragment and another with the vector DNA. If there is only one band in an unintended lane, then the digest was unsuccessful.

Works Cited

Bosland, P., and Baral, J. (2007) ‘Bhut Jolokia’-The World’s Hottest Pepper Known Chile Pepper is a Putative Naturally Occurring Hybrid. HORTSCIENCE 42(2):222–224.

Bio Rad. (n.d.). Cloning and sequencing explorer series. BioRad.com. Retrieved March 23, 2022, from https://www.bio-rad.com/en-us/product/cloning-sequencing-explorer-series?ID=43739f03-3540-4719-b42f-1809e2199b9f

Bio Rad. (n.d.). Bioinformatics supplement – bio-rad.com. Bio Rad. Retrieved March 24, 2022, from https://www.bio-rad.com/sites/default/files/webroot/web/pdf/lse/literature/10040011.pdf

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Ivet Love

This writing is a concept map derived from information gathered from clinical notes and information obtained from clinical rotation VNSG 1362: Creating a concept map on a disease or chief complaint of assigned client. In this concept map Ivet is very precise in explaining the health problem, risk and health promotion nursing diagnosis specific to this client and their disease process.

Understanding the client’s needs as the nurse is very important in prioritizing and guiding individualized care. Ivet based this plan and goals on helping the client’s respiratory status focusing on managing not curing. COPD is not a curable disease but can be managed and prevention of further lung damage can be achieved through teaching and education about disease process. Which is also outline in Ivet’s teaching.

For this specific client, Ivet was able to use her critical thinking and assess that increased mucous build up is apart of the disease process and can lead to exacerbation of COPD and taught the client how to loosen and cough up the mucous to help breathing. The goals were SMART. Specific, measurable, attainable and had a time frame specific to the client’s needs.

This image lays out a concept map by Ivet Love with lots of text outlining her plan for her particular client.

Concept Map. Ivet Love 2022

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Kaitlen Gutierrez

Creating a concept map on a disease or chief complaint of assigned client. In this concept map Kaitlen is very detailed in explaining the health problem, risk and health promotion nursing diagnosis not only specific to the disease process, but more importantly specific to the client and their family. This is very important because as a nurse assessing priority guides the plan for individualized care.

For this specific client skin breakdown was a priority problem for them and their family due to the client’s immobility. Skin integrity is always a struggle when the client has limited mobility.

Kaitlen was able to use her critical thinking and clinical judgement skill to identify this client’s risk for inadequate tissue perfusion because of cerebral edema. She assessed the spouse’s readiness to learn and was able to outline teaching topics and techniques related to their concerns, which was the skin breakdown. The goals were SMART. Specific, measurable, attainable and had a time frame.

This image lays out a concept map by Kaitlen Gutierrez with lots of text outlining her plan for her particular client.

Concept Map. Kaitlen Gutierrez 2022

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Victoria Moreno-Gama


Plastics dramatically improve the lives of world citizens and contribute to global economic expansion while also posing serious environmental threats through marine pollution. According to the United Nations Environment Assembly, an estimated eight million tons of plastic waste enters the ocean each year. This research paper analyzes marine plastic pollution through an economic lens by looking at the cost-benefits of plastic use, production, consumption patterns, and waste-management of plastic on a global scale. Key questions that will be investigated are: what economic and humanitarian factors have skyrocketed plastic production and consumption in the last decades? Why has plastic pollution outnumbered other types of marine pollution in such a short amount of time? How can waste-management systems be improved to bring down costs and reduce the environmental impact of harmful plastic materials such as single-use plastic? To answer these questions, the research will rely on the use of primary sources from the United Nations, international reports, and research databases. This analysis reveals how uncovering the answers to these questions may hopefully move humanity towards a more prosperous, safe, and environmentally sustainable future.

An Economic Analysis of Marine Plastic Litter: Unpacking the Plastics Industry


Plastic products, being notably versatile and boasting a wide range of applications, have amazed the world with their revolutionary benefits. Although plastics are a significant part of a growing economic sector, we have witnessed devastating environmental effects as a result of their widespread use. Compiling and analyzing the current literature surrounding plastics will be necessary to critically analyze the economic impacts of plastic pollution. According to the United Nations Environment Assembly, an estimated eight million tons of plastic waste enters the oceans each year. This pressing global concern is discussed everywhere from elementary school classrooms to national governments and United Nations assemblies. Marine plastic pollution has become an unfortunate reality that stems from increasingly normalized patterns of plastic consumption and production. Although plastic waste has been recognized as a serious pollutant to the oceans, global markets continue to grow because of the legitimate benefits associated with this unique product.

This research seeks to identify the underlying challenges faced in reducing global plastics pollution and provide substantive answers to best tackle the growing challenges posed by plastics production, consumption patterns, use and disposal through a cost-benefit analysis of plastic use today, and assessment of the feasibility and practicality found in current waste-management solutions. Key questions addressed within the research include: what economic and humanitarian factors have skyrocketed plastic production and consumption in the last decades? Why has plastic pollution outnumbered other types of marine pollution in such a short amount of time? How can waste-management systems be improved to bring down costs and reduce the environmental impact of harmful plastic materials like single-use plastic? This analysis reveals how uncovering the answers to these questions may hopefully move humanity towards a more prosperous, safe, and environmentally sustainable future.

Literature Review of the Plastics Industry and Plastic Waste

The academic literature pertaining to plastics provides a number of common themes. However, the two dominant themes of benefits and consequences from the plastics industry often speak in opposition to one another or fail to take the other perspective into account. Only by considering both sides of the plastics debate can one devise legitimate environmental and economic solutions. Major producers and economic investors in the plastics industry focus largely on the benefits plastics have in the short-run, while environmental groups avoid discussing benefits and highlight the detrimental impact plastics have in the long-run. The most relevant articles and journals attempt to review both sides of the issue. This research will review both sides as well, but will direct more critical analysis to the economics of the debate, which is better suited for the nature of this paper.

Due to the extensive benefits plastics provide, the economic stance will highlight their usefulness and prominence. Anthony Andrady and Mike Neal examine the benefits of plastics in their publication “Application and Societal Benefits of Plastics,” by analyzing the current effectiveness of plastic as a product and looking at future research initiatives. Plastics have been a catalyst for food packaging, reduced transportation costs and energy saving initiatives (3). Currently, plastics are being used to aid the development of renewable energy resources, including the fundamental materials of hydrogen and carbon, to create new materials like carbon nanotubes. In fact, carbon nanotubes and upcycled electricity wires using plastic compounds counters the overheating issues caused by long-range metal cables (Poischbeg). This would mean renewable energy power stations using wind or solar energy would be able to reach greater distances without worry of overheating. Plastic technologies and advances continue to improve lives and further exploration is a key interest in the research community.

Disposable plastics are a prominent economic option in today’s society. For instance, not only have plastic utensils been used in restaurants and at home to cut labor costs and energy required to clean traditional silverware, but they have also cut down on the spread of diseases in the food industry, an economic and humanitarian interest (“The Purpose”). Furthermore, the study elaborates the value of resource efficiency, for instance, lightweight packaging can lower the weight of transport, reduce carbon emissions, lower required energy, and improve many safety measures, namely in airbags and hazard suits (Plastics Europe 6). Although Plastics Europe as an organization releases annual reports with general facts and figures of the previous year, they occasionally release in-depth analytical reports that are based around the data they compile annually, which is being referenced here. Plastic packaging is also proven to extend the shelf life of food and beverages. Through sealants and insulation, plastic products make homes significantly more energy efficient (Consumer Benefits). Plastics have improved human life in almost every way imaginable, shaping the way of the modern world through their innovation.

Academic discussion indicates that global economies and employment rates thrive in the plastics industry, showing no signs of slowing down. Plastics have certainly improved humanity and societal needs, but there are also clear economic advantages to plastic production. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the U.S. plastics industry employs more than 700,000 people and the industry is expected to experience higher employment rates. About 186 billion USD has been invested in the plastics industry since 2010, making production increase rapidly in the past decade. Due to the strong societal and economic impact of plastics in today’s global economy, any move to decrease plastic use will face serious challenges and possible job loss.

Despite the advantages associated with the use of plastics, a significant body of literature has focused on plastics costs, emphasizing several key areas to categorize cost. Economic loss to government entities include estimates that the 21 countries in the Asia-Pacific rim are experiencing 1.26 billion USD in damages to control the marine pollution problem (McIlgorm et. al.) This type of cost is substantial because it directly affects the economies of many nations over a large geographical region. Economic costs are further separated into subcategories, which include expenditures and loss of output (Bergmann 14.2). Both of these subcategories deal with the unavoidable environmental impact that will later reflect through economic costs. This concept occurs anytime plastic debris has a negative impact on the environment and financial resources are then necessary to address the issue. The first subcategory of expenditures includes beach cleanup, damage to fishing gear, and plastics-related health issues. The second subcategory, loss of output, relates to a disruption in major industries, such as agriculture, aquaculture, fisheries, commercial shipping, recreational boating, coastal tourism, etc. Consequential environmental impacts caused by plastic pollution become significant when compared with the benefits mentioned by earlier studies. One of the strongest themes that results from the overview of the literature, in terms of the cost-benefits of plastic use, is the act of choosing the short-term benefits regardless of the long-term costs. Negative long-term impacts outweigh the short-term benefits because the benefits simply delay economic costs, they do not erase them. Eventually, governments and corporations are paying a convenience fee they may have never imagined for choosing unsustainable forms of plastic. As time passes, this will become more evident as environmental effects become irreversible, and greater economic costs become inevitable.

Plastic production, in the past several decades, has also naturally narrowed down to a certain type of plastic, thanks to technological advances. Plastic production has revealed a most notable shift seen in recent years in the change from durable, long-term plastic products to single-use plastics (Geyer et. al.). Research for new applications of plastic polymers reveals preferred lightweight options, as seen in single-use plastics. Single-use plastics are easily the most preferred method of packaging due to their low cost and easy disposal. Roland Geyer’s research of single-use plastics is complemented by the use of plastic packaging as explored by the Plastics Europe report. The analytical report covers information beyond statistics by investigating the chemical composition, benefits to plastic use, research initiatives, sustainability, and trends in recycling and energy recovery. The complexity of plastic is evident and the source adequately addresses all sides of the topic. Further, the United Nations Environment Programme released Single-Use Plastics: a Roadmap for Sustainability, a report specifically discussing single-use plastics and methods to improve sustainability. This report indicates that the global shift to single-use plastics has become a significant part of our world. Single-use materials are largely produced by non-renewable resources, including fossil hydrocarbons, which points to their unsustainability in the status quo. Although the varying sources are independent of each other, they collectively explain the significance of the shift in plastic production. The experts all observe the production growth of single-use plastics, causing demand for them in the packaging sector due to overall efficiency and convenience. Current production patterns of plastic are showcased in reports and statistical figures, which explain why single-use plastics are so well established in the modern world’s economy. They are cheaper to produce and more convenient for communities to consume, thereby functioning as a miracle product.

Plastics have completely changed the global market and have high production rates due to their efficiency. Over the last 50 years, plastics have become a staple commodity that has reached all countries, whether developed or undeveloped. Beginning with a focus on production patterns, the World Bank’s most recent data from 2018 demonstrates that the United States is the top exporter of plastics in the world, annually exporting around 100 million USD worth of plastic. China is a close second, as they export 89 million USD worth of the material. China is the top global producer of plastic, with an annual figure of around 60 million tonnes (Ritchie and Roser). Although they produce the most plastic, China does not export as much as the United States because its population consumes a large portion of their production domestically. These two key economies are making the greatest impact in plastic production, with European powerhouses, Germany and France, following closely behind. An important commonality between the key world producers of plastic is that they all have well-established economies and are more likely to be developed countries.

Plastic consumption directly relates to the patterns of waste because countries that consume plastic unsustainably have been noted to generate the most waste. For instance, the largest sector of the plastics industry is packaging, which conveniently offers the greatest potential for identification and solutions (“Single-Use” 2). China is currently the largest contributor to global plastic waste and Asia contributes about 23 percent of plastic waste related to single-use packaging materials. Interestingly enough, the US is the largest contributor to plastic waste on a per capita basis. This indicates that American citizens are consuming plastic and creating waste at a higher rate than the average Chinese citizen. Plastic consumption is managed differently around the world, with developed countries, like the US, having higher individual responsibility compared to developing countries, like China. Underdeveloped nations in the Eastern Hemisphere, and specifically the Asian region, largely contribute to plastic waste on the whole, but their average citizens do not contribute as much as average U.S. citizens. Underdeveloped populations, having the greatest need to consume convenient plastic technologies through their governments and private sector, encounter greater overall percentages of plastic waste. This signifies that the culture in developed nations reflect greater individual responsibility and dependency on plastics, even though these populations are more financially stable. On the contrary, underdeveloped nations have higher numbers for total waste produced, but less individual dependency, even though their populations could stand to benefit from cheap, quick solutions in their daily lives.

Consumption patterns in the plastics industry speak to the widespread use plastics have in the lives of global citizens. Nearly half of all the plastic waste generated globally in 2015 was categorized as single-use according to Single-Use Plastics: a Roadmap for Sustainability. While plastics have drastically improved valued industries, including industrial machinery, technology, transportation, etc., these applications generally do not involve single-use plastics, but rather durable forms of plastic that are long-lasting. Despite this, the unsustainable single-use material continues to be the highest type of waste produced. Single-use waste disproportionately exceeds other forms of plastic waste, such as those from the powerful industries mentioned, on a per capita basis. The majority of disposable plastic waste found includes carry bags, plastic drinking bottles, plastic bottle caps, food wrappers, and related items (Sharma). This validates that plastic is being used for convenience rather than the revolutionary applications we frequently associate it with. Therefore, problem-solving efforts should be dedicated to single-use plastics in particular and related materials that result in the highest rates of waste. Single-use plastic material is the least recycled, yet it has the greatest need for sustainable disposal methods.

Although plastics have directly benefited society, ineffective waste-management results in environmental costs that lead to significant economic costs. Most plastics are produced and exported from strong economies and developed nations; however, underdeveloped countries are often left to deal with plastic waste. Low-to-middle-income countries, such as those in Sub-Saharan African and South Asia, will find that 80-90 percent of their plastic waste is inadequately disposed of (Ritchie and Roser). More developed regions, in particular, the U.S. and Europe, have established waste-management infrastructure including secured, closed landfills. Mismanaged plastic waste from underdeveloped nations is most likely to end up in rivers or wastewater which then filter into oceans (Plastics Europe 12). This globally significant issue stems from the growing plastic economy. Plastics have end-of-life patterns that are generally more highlighted than production and consumption patterns when assessing economic effects. This is demonstrated through awareness initiatives and the heavy marketing of individual efforts to “reduce, reuse, and recycle.” The reality of the matter is that less than nine percent of all plastics ever produced have been recycled, and single-use plastics are currently not practical items to be recycled due to their chemical composition and initial end-of-life purpose. Recycling may be a popular buzzword that attempts to motivate environmentally friendly initiatives, but Jefferson Hopewell et. al. investigate the economic feasibility of recycling plastic products, specifically the ones seen in the current market. Plastic packaging, being one of the most widespread applications of single-use plastics according to Plastics Europe’s analytical report, are a result of a combination of polymers that create the thin material that is heavily used in the market. Hopewell’s research indicates that recycling is more economically attainable when the materials intended to be recycled are made from a single polymer rather than many, which is simply not the case in many of the plastics that are commonly used, a large percentage of which consist of single-use plastics. Recycling for disposable plastics is “although technically possible – often financially unviable” (“Single-Use” 15). They use styrofoam as an example of a material that cannot be recycled locally but must be shipped to a centralized plant. To ship and coordinate such a vast amount of unique materials in categories of single-use plastics is an overwhelming task. This indicates that although recycling is arbitrarily referenced as a waste-management solution, it is certainly not the most economically or logistically achievable.

Waste-management systems have not been able to keep up with the rate of plastic production, therefore resulting in further environmental damage and misuse of resources (Plastics Europe 11). Improved waste-management techniques can have tremendous value on the Asia-Pacific region, an area that experiences vast mismanagement of plastic waste (McIlgorm et. al.). Once plastic has reached maximum usage, which in many cases is one use, it is often discarded through ocean leakage with a quarter of collected waste leaking into the oceans due to ineffective waste-management (Plastics Europe 7). This signifies the added difficulty current waste-management systems have to control plastic waste. As production and consumption of plastic rises, specifically in urban cities, more plastic waste continues to end up in the oceans (Hoornweg and Perinaz). Coastal regions, such as those found in many Asian countries, have a higher chance of polluting the oceans due to their close proximity to shores, and lack of adequate infrastructure. Production and consumption patterns connect to waste-management techniques because of the grave disparity between their evolution in the past few decades. The world is favoring the newest applications of plastic without allocating the appropriate time and resources to develop necessary waste-management infrastructure to equate with the expanding plastics industry.

Analysis of Waste-Management Solutions Through Their Feasibility and Practicality

Although plastic has revolutionized the modern world, our disposal of this miracle product has been less than optimal. Successfully addressing marine plastic pollution is not a question of right and wrong; on the contrary, the general consensus is that polluting our earth’s oceans has resulted in increasingly catastrophic environmental issues, impacting everything from global climate change to food chains that are relied on to feed much of the world’s population. The problem lies in the feasibility of implementing effective waste-management infrastructure and the current patterns of plastic consumption. If initiatives to improve the situation are not feasible, it cannot make economic sense regardless of how practical it may be.

Plastic production has established itself as a powerful industry where sustainability is not usually considered. Major producers constantly cut overhead costs and unnecessary spending to make plastics in the cheapest way possible, behavior which is otherwise reasonable and to be expected. The most practical way to control plastic waste should involve managing it at its source. If the plastics industry were held liable for disposal costs for their products while they create them, this would be a sustainable practice that considers the full life of the plastic product. This liability can be measured in future recycling costs, shipments of plastic waste to incineration plants, energy recovery, and more. Companies tend to operate as financially efficient as possible and would be hesitant to incur these costs because it does not benefit them to do so. Disposal costs on major industry players would be a practical way to aid plastic waste relief, but these independent corporations are not likely to implement them on their own. However, this sustainable practice may still be accomplished through legislation that requires disposal costs to be satisfied by major corporations. Major producers are found in the U.S., China, and Germany amongst other European nations. Democratic entities should be encouraged to pass this legislation as a moral obligation for the planet. Besides the ethical argument to internally absorb expenses, the hidden consequences that society incurs in the long run would achieve economic fairness if the producers covered disposal costs. Moreover, international regimes could impose cross-national standards to encourage these endeavors, similar to the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. By doing so, political actors can agree on regulations through international agreements that prevent major producers from using their power for an unjust competitive advantage. Such policies would provide guidelines for participating members to adapt their laws and culture towards a more sustainable future. Although these costs might seem detrimental at first, they can greatly benefit the environment and economic equity in the long run.

Consumption and general use of plastic also has the capacity to become a more environmentally conscious practice. Single-use plastics should become a less standard product in the homes of families that can afford sustainable plastics. Developed countries are most likely to have a higher standard of living than underdeveloped ones, yet they produce just as much plastic waste as underdeveloped countries. Consumption of single-use plastics can possibly be curved by placing an additional tax on the most harmful products, similar to a carbon tax on fuel. The added tax could potentially be used to aid state or local efforts to improve waste-management for plastic. This would be a practical way of discouraging the use of single-use plastics in areas that can afford to go without them, particularly in developed nations that have higher individual responsibility for plastic waste. This option is feasible if implemented by state and local governments that have a better understanding of their populations. Additionally, public pressure on multinational corporations could influence them to be more environmentally conscious, and ultimately enhance their marketing image while supporting a cleaner environment. By considering these various options, mitigating plastic waste in the oceans can be done successfully if executed in an economically sensible manner.

The most popularly suggested waste-management technique, recycling, has been taught in schools and constantly referenced over time. Weighing both sides of the argument is crucial to understanding the practicality of this approach. Recycling has raised awareness about pollution in an impactful way, yet studies continue to reference how 9 percent of all plastics ever produced have been recycled. There are several reasons for this. First, plastic is so cheap to produce that the additional steps and processing recycled plastic has to undergo makes it difficult to compete in the market against newly developed plastic goods. Consumption patterns remain consistent in this sense, the cheaper product will outsell the more expensive one if they are relatively the same in quality and use. This obstacle remains a valid concern as the costs of recycling plastic are higher than producing plastic. Secondly, the more complicated the chemical composition of the plastic, the more cost and energy is required to break it apart and recycle it. This is especially true in the case of single-use plastics, which are not produced with recycling in mind. The nine percent statistic is reflective of the true application of plastics in the real world. Yes, recycling can be practical and can greatly help mitigate polluting the oceans, but due to higher costs and current global efforts, it has not proven to be the most probable or efficient waste-management method. This is not to say that recycling should be discarded as a solution to the greater problem. Recycling can function as one of many strategies that reduce the amount of plastics entering the ocean, with greater funding towards policies that reduce cost and maximize efficiency.

Before enacting the “Green Fence” initiative to restrict waste imports in 2013, China was the top importer of plastic waste. After this policy became permanent in 2017, global imports of waste were spread across middle-income and higher-income countries (Brooks et. al.). China could no longer maintain the burden of receiving other nation’s plastic waste which had negatively impacted their environment and human health. Regardless of status, governments that were used to sending their waste to China now found themselves ill-equipped to manage waste due to lack of necessary infrastructure and clear policy. This suggests that the global economy is unable to adequately address plastic waste and prevent leakage into oceans. Improving waste-management infrastructure, including plastic processing plants, incineration plants, and energy recovery systems, may be a key step to improving the issues at hand. Given that scientists continue to enhance and mold the applications of plastic, why not also do the same for the disposal of plastic? Plastic continues to be discarded, leaking into rivers that flow into oceans. It is possible to stop this at its source by increasing the efforts of plastic collection after use.

Addressing plastic pollution requires drastic policy change and dedicated funding to support the improvement of waste-management infrastructure. Government funding for such initiatives may be difficult to acquire considering each government retains autonomous control over decisions with national funding, but it is feasible if the right investments are made. The private sector does have the opportunity to influence change but not near the scale of governments. Private sectors and nonprofits currently do well by aiding small scale projects, such as beach cleanups, individual recycling campaigns, and awareness events. These are important, but they do not have the same effect as sustainable waste-management systems. International, non-government organizations, namely the United Nations, are at liberty to organize guidelines that require major producers to build disposal costs into the costs of their products. Such guidelines can be encouraged by member states domestically imposing taxes and tariffs on certain plastic goods. Establishing international regimens that encourage the strong actors of the plastics industry to act in an economically and environmentally conscious manner would also greatly benefit efforts to mitigate pollution. For instance, the United Nations consider their 17 Sustainable Development Goals when drafting multinational resolutions to address these issues. Goals related to marine plastic pollution are numbers 12, 13, and 14: Responsible Consumption and Production, Climate Action, and Life Below Water. International resolutions can make a difference with clear goals like these in mind. Creating better infrastructure for waste-management has the most potential to diminish marine plastic pollution, and can be feasible if the right policies are passed with appropriate funding.

Marine plastic pollution is a pressing environmental issue with economic elements that are often overlooked. Practical solutions cannot always be implemented because they are not economically possible or cost-effective. Plastic is an economically valuable product that will clearly continue to thrive as production and consumption patterns predict. Current disposal habits can be addressed by implementing policies that are both practical for the environment and economically sensible; this ensures that the global market is utilizing its scarce resources to the best of its ability.


Marine plastic pollution must be addressed practically by studying the cost-benefits of plastic use and analyzing production and consumption patterns. When governments and corporations become educated on these key topics and their importance, it will pave the way for powerful waste-management systems that can sufficiently control plastic waste. Plastic is a crucial component of the modern world and enhances humanity through prominent technological applications. Its future shows no signs of slowing down, indicating that efforts to mitigate waste should revolve around waste-management rather than prevention. Plastic products are used to society’s advantage by supporting developing countries and impoverished populations. The economic and humanitarian benefits of plastics promotes a significant positive impact.

Solving pollution issues related to plastic waste needs to take place through an intentional effort made by major producers and nations. These same actors have a responsibility to create change because they are the only ones capable of doing so on a large scale. Current waste-management strategies have not been able to keep up with the amount of plastic waste being produced. Practical policy changes supported by funding are crucial to make feasible improvements. By implementing more advanced waste-management infrastructure, a global change to positively impact the world’s oceans can be accomplished.

Works Cited

Andrady, Anthony L, and Neal, Mike A. “Applications and societal benefits of plastics.” Philosophical transactions of the Royal Society of London. Series B, Biological sciences vol. 364,1526 (2009): 1977-84. doi:10.1098/rstb.2008.0304

“About the Plastics and Rubber Products Manufacturing Subsector.” U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, http://www.bls.gov/iag/tgs/iag326.htm.

Bergmann, Melanie, Lars Gutow, and Michael Klages, eds. Marine Anthropogenic Litter. Springer, 2015.

Brooks, Amy et. al. “The Chinese import ban and its impact on global plastic waste trade” Science Magazine, vol. 4, no. 6. 20 June 2018. advances.sciencemag.org/content/4/6/eaat0131?intcmp=trendmd-adv&_ga=2.21

“Consumer Benefits.” Consumer Benefits, plastics.americanchemistry.com/Consumer-Benefits/

Geyer, Roland et al., “Production, use, and fate of all plastics ever made.” Science Magazine, vol.3, no. 7. 19 July 2017. “https://advances.sciencemag.org/content/3/7/e1700782/tab-article-info”.

Gourmelon, Gaelle. “Global plastic production rises, recycling lags.” New Worldwatch Institute analysis explores trends in global plastic consumption and recycling., www. worldwatch.org 208 (2015).

Hoornweg, Daniel, Perinaz Bhada-Tata, and Chris Kennedy. “Environment: Waste production must peak this century.” Nature News 502.7473 (2013): 615.

Hopewell, Jefferson et al. “Plastics recycling: challenges and opportunities.” Philosophical transactions of the Royal Society of London. Series B, Biological sciences vol. 364,1526,  2009 pp. 2115-26.  doi:10.1098/rstb.2008.0311

McIlgorm, Alistair, Harry F. Campbell, and Michael J. Rule. “The economic cost and control of marine debris damage in the Asia-Pacific region.” Ocean & Coastal Management vol 54, no. 9, 2011, pp. 643-651.

Plastics Europe, The Compelling Facts About Plastics: An Analysis of Plastic Production, Demand and Recovery for 2006 in Europe , 2006

Poischbeg, Matt. “How Black Plastics Can Aid in Renewable Energy.” Sealect Plastics, 7 Nov. 2019, sealectplastics.com/news/how-black-plastics-can-aid-in-renewable-energy/

“The Purpose of Single-Use Plastics.” This Is Plastics, 9 Jan. 2020, http://www.thisisplastics.com/the-purpose-of-single-use-plastics/

Ritchie, Hannah and Roser, Max (2020) – “Plastic Pollution.” Published online at OurWorldInData.org. Retrieved from: ‘https://ourworldindata.org/plastic-pollution’

Sharma, Kumar. “Ban on Single-Use Plastic: What Products, Industries Will Be Hit?” Business Today, 15 Sept. 2019,www.businesstoday.in/current/economy-politics/ban-on-single-use-plastic-what-product-industries-will-be-hit/story/379134.html.

Single-Use Plastics: A Roadmap for Sustainability, UNEP, 2018, wedocs.unep.org/bitstream/handle/20.500.11822/25496/singleUsePlastic_sustainBility.pdf

“Stemming the tide: Land-based strategies for a plastic free ocean” Ocean Conservancy Annual Report, 2017. oceanconservancy.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/full-report-stemming-the.pdf

“World Plastic or Rubber Exports By Country.” World, wits.worldbank.org/CountryProfile/en/Country/WLD/Year/LTST/TradeFlow/Export/Parner/by-country/Product/39-40_PlastiRub.

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Kumali Schoen


With an aim to understand the connection between storytelling and empathy for immigrant and first-generation Americans, this research paper investigates how the narration of trauma creates a third space for the reader to empathize with the experiences of Chinese immigrants and Chinese Americans in Maxine Hong Kingston’s “No Name Woman.” This study first synthesizes trauma theory by foundational scholar Sigmund Freud, the opportunities for empathy in trauma narratives, and transgenerational transfer of trauma through post-memory. Addressing a gap in previous literature that connects trauma with a readers’ ability to empathize with the immigrant experience, this study then explores Kingston’s multilayered trauma narrative along with silence as a symbol of oppression to understand how ethnic trauma can be transferred across generations and the opportunities for literary empathy for migrant communities. Analysis reveals that Kingston’s merging of collective with individual trauma, personal anecdotes of post- memory, and use of silence as a symbol of cultural oppression helps the audience to empathize with both the inherited and current trauma of immigrants in America. With this humanistic approach to cultural studies, focusing on how characters in stories are defined between cultures rather than comparing societies separately, this literary analysis can inform an investigation of the experiences of today’s first-generation Americans.

The Breaking of Silence: Trauma as the Bridge to Empathy in Maxine Hong Kingston’s No Name Woman


Can trauma be transferred to another person through literature? Immigrants not only move from one geographic location to another; they also must transition from a familiar cultural environment to a new one. Furthermore, while many individuals migrate for pull factors like increased economic opportunities, others leave their homeland because of push factors like violence, oppression, and economic or political instability. These physical and environmental transitions can certainly be traumatic, but what is often less observed is how traumatic experiences from their homeland continue to affect their experiences in a new land and to what extent their children, first-generation Americans separated from past ethnic traumas, inherit these traumas.

Maxine Hong Kingston is a first-generation Chinese American born in Stockton, California in 1927. In her book, The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts, she assembles autobiographical stories of her immigration background and her experiences with Chinese and American cultures. Her short story, “No Name Woman,” is the first chapter of this memoir, and it recaps Kingston’s childhood experience with hearing a trauma narrative from her mother, a Chinese immigrant. Her mother, Brave Orchid, tells Kingston a story about her aunt who she explains remains unidentified as “No Name Woman” because of the adultery she committed. Old Chinese culture stresses collectivism or prioritizing “attending to others, fitting in, and harmonious interdependence with them. While individualism, specifically American culture, emphasizes independence, self-reflection, and self-expression, (Markus & Kitayama 224). Therefore, from Brave Orchid’s perspective, adultery shamed not just the individual but the collective community. The punishment was the village’s violent raid on her family, the aunt’s suicide, and her family’s erasure of her existence. On the other hand, Kingston begins to develop her own perspective about her aunt, imagining the trauma of rape and social rejection she might have experienced, and weaving these two distinct perspectives into her short story for the reader to digest.

To understand the connection between storytelling and empathy for immigrant and first-generation Americans, this research paper examines how trauma creates a third space for the reader to empathize with the experiences of Chinese immigrants and Chinese Americans in “No Name Woman.” Considering the estrangement of immigrants in American society, this study navigates the extent to which storytelling of trauma can help to bridge the understanding gap between native and the “other” through empathy. After synthesizing the trauma theory of foundational scholar Sigmund Freud, discovering the opportunities for empathy in trauma narratives, and implementing the concept of post-memory coined by Marianne Hirsch, it was clear there was a gap in literature that connects literary empathy for trauma with the immigrant experience. Analysis reveals that Kingston’s merging of collective with individual trauma, personal anecdotes of post-memory, and use of silence as a symbol of cultural oppression helps the audience to empathize with both the inherited trauma and current trauma of immigrants in America.

Literature Review


Contrary to popular thought, an experience is not designated traumatic by its level of extremity but by the individual’s pre-existing mental capacity in dealing with an event. In his essay “Beyond the Pleasure Principle,” Sigmund Freud, psychologist, and foundational scholar in trauma theory, claimed that the pleasure principle automatically directs human mental functions. Pleasure principle is the desire for the mind to leave “an unpleasant state of tension” either by avoiding pain, perceived threats in the external world which may be physically or mentally harmful or seeking pleasure to ease the tension (Freud 4-7). While this fundamental instinct can genuinely help to avoid traumatic experiences in the first place, once encountered with one, it can be a barrier to healing. To explain the state of emotional shock, or traumatic neurosis, after a trauma, Freud deemed that an experience had to have some surprise or “fright” for it to be traumatic (8). While a person with apprehension (angst), or the ability to prepare for the pain, or “fear” (Furcht), a notion of the object of their fear, would not reach traumatic neurosis, a person with fright (Schreck) must face danger without mental preparation or understanding, inducing traumatic neurosis (8). It is not how extreme the trauma is which determines the long-term effects on the mind, rather it is the existence of knowledge and preparation which prevents the damaging effects of trauma. Knowledge and preparation function as a defense mechanism for the mind and without it, the mind is vulnerable to the dangers of the external world.

Trauma’s complex formation makes it challenging to heal from. In traumatic neurosis, the person is driven, often unaware, to repeat the unpleasant traumatic experience in their mind, dreams, or actions by the unconscious power instinct to have “mastery of the situation” (Freud 9-11). Yet, because the emotions during the traumatic experience were repressed to protect the overwhelmed mind, the person finds themselves later unknowingly repeating the repressed elements attempting to push itself into consciousness (13-14). Resistance to the repressed information for fear of reliving the painful experience is futile as it subjects the person to reliving repressed material unconsciously and prevents them from packaging the traumatic emotions and behavioral processes into the past. The dreams or repetition-compulsion are “attempts at restoring control of the stimuli by developing apprehension” (25). Freud’s explanation of repetition-compulsion explains why some individuals may use writing to process simmering feelings in the conscious mind that were once repressed in past trauma. Writing forces the person to identify sometimes overwhelming feelings with words, a natural transition from unconsciousness to consciousness. Furthermore, what may have started out as a personal processing of trauma, its public expression facilitates the transfer of trauma and gives others an opportunity to empathize with it.


Literature can be a form of creative processing of trauma that simultaneously acts as a bridge, connecting the reader empathetically with the experiences of the writer. The formation of empathy has been used on a fictional scale to help make fantasy novels more relatable. Elizabeth K. Lundberg found that empathy is crucial for creating effective science fiction especially with posthuman characters and postmodern literature. Imagination, it seems, opens the possibility for empathy. Writers also use literature about trauma as a tool for exposing societal injustices. Sarah Anderson observes that contemporary trauma fiction writers use trauma as a character device to divulge specific social and political situations like cultural oppression (Anderson 8-9). With her analysis of H.D. ‘s autobiography HERmione, for example, Anderson concludes that the female character’s madness was used as a literary tool to protest patriarchy (10-13). The reader empathizes with the woman’s suffering and developing madness, helping them to equate mental illness to the trauma women experience under patriarchy.

Traumatic narratives therefore can also be a powerful tool for helping readers empathize with outsider groups like immigrants.  Once considered limited to male-centered experiences of war, natural disasters, or abuse, traumatic experiences now extend to events without physical violence and to those of women and minorities (Sarah Anderson 6). An expansive definition for trauma allows for greater diversity in its creative expression. Individuals internalize the social and economic contexts of their lives through the arts and writing, thus forming the connection between history and literature (7). Empathy, in fact, is the process of imaginatively identifying with the “other” which ultimately removes the “otherness,” (Horn). Therefore, other scholars have found how trade books about the immigrant experience can not only help foster empathy but change societal ingrained perceptions and stereotypes of foreign cultures (Bousalis).

Understanding the extreme “otherness” imposed on minorities, some writers combine imaginative elements with the true stories of trauma to strip down these barriers and effectively build empathy. In Empathy and the Phantasmic in Ethnic American Trauma Narratives, Stella Setka investigates how phantasmic trauma narratives create a third space for a contemporary audience to empathize with past ethnic traumas. Phantasmic trauma narratives are a form of ethnic literature that incorporates the supernatural and other “fantastic irruptions” of the specific culture, which Setka argues, helps the reader to connect the suffering of past traumas with the present through empathy (Setka 2). The phantasmic style offers an ethical path for readers to understand past cultural traumas and relate it back to the larger pattern of human oppression and suffering. Trauma and empathy are interconnected. The inability to respect the trauma victim’s alterity through superficial empathy, for example, is a form of violence because it reinforces the trauma (5). Therefore, genuine empathy is necessary for the transfer of trauma truth and empathy begins with appreciating the differences between people and their experiences without any presumptions or stereotypes. Empathy must be separated from other superficial forms like sympathy which may perpetuate trauma rather than understanding. Phantasmic trauma narratives with their foundation in cultural belief systems spotlight this alterity.

With specifically cultural trauma, there is not only the opportunity for empathy but also the possibility to create cross-cultural competency. The relationship between the writer’s narration of cultural belief systems and the reader’s engagement showcases a cross-cultural exchange through empathy. Setka explains that phantasmic features in a narrative reflect the ethnic author’s cultural reality, disrupting readers’ preconceptions about the other, and helping them to experience and react rather than passively read about their trauma (Setka 8-15). This contrasts with magical realism which focuses on the “otherness” of the events and thereby restricts empathy (15). By stripping misunderstandings about a culture or people, the reader may now be able to view these other belief systems as valid and choose to empathize with the trauma of the other. Phantasmic elements bring a level of engagement to the reading process which heightens empathetic understanding. In trauma narratives with a contemporary perspective, or where protagonists are in the present while the trauma is of the past, the reader can relate to the protagonist’s historical distance and process of discovery thereby connecting past traumas with present consequences (16). Setka claims that phantasmic trauma narratives help readers reach affiliative post-memory using familiar methods of transmission (7). The fact that a “memory” of trauma could even be transferred to another with such emotional depth indicates that the process involves empathy.


Literature can also reveal and facilitate the intergenerational transfer of trauma. In her book, The Generation of Post-memory: Writing and Visual Culture After the Holocaust, Marianne Hirsch coins the term “post-memory” to envelop the relationship that the “generation after” has between the personal or collective historical traumatic experiences of others and their own “memories” of the trauma crafted by images, stories, and actions (Hirsch 1). The idea is that an individual does not have to be a direct witness of trauma for them to deeply conjure their own experience of that trauma. This expands the scope of trauma to not only include those who originally experienced it but the generations after who can still feel and incorporate the trauma of the past. Additionally, post-memory claims that future generations are actively connected to the trauma of the past through “imaginative investment, projection, and creation” rather than through passive remembrance (1). This expands the avenues in which trauma is processed. The truth of trauma does not necessarily lie in factual testimony, but it can also be passed across generations and shared through literature’s fictional realm of creativity and imagination. Just as Freud claimed that traumatic experiences are repetitive in nature, Hirsch describes post-memory as a “traumatic recall but at a generational remove” (5). Post-memory places trauma into the possibility of timelessness and shared experiences as the personal experience of trauma ripples onto others through the behaviors and storytelling of psychological recall.

Content Analysis


Kingston establishes literary empathy for the villagers’ collective trauma to show that it is the inability to recognize the traumatic experiences of the “other” through silence which caused the tragedy of no name woman. The story takes place in 1920s rural China during a difficult period of “ghost plagues, bandit plagues, wars with the Japanese, floods.” For villagers struggling with the basics of food and safety, “adultery is extravagance…to have a daughter in starvation time was a waste enough” (Kingston 6). Kingston describes how rural Chinese communities relied heavily on women to uphold cultural traditions in these times of disorder. Therefore, a woman’s focus on herself such as “disturbing hair and eyes, a smile like no other, threatened the ideal of five generations living under one roof” (11). Indulgence in the self or ideas of romance were excessive behaviors that could fracture the fragile social ecosystem necessary in times of poverty and famine. Meanwhile marriage, which “promises to turn strangers into friendly relatives- a nation of siblings,” legally bound the community, an essential social need (12). While it meant that individuals had to sacrifice personal freedoms, this innerweb of family provided security to the values and traditions of a struggling community. Kingston establishes this cultural background in the context of these economic struggles for the reader to understand the motivation behind the raid. She describes how “the frightened villagers, who depended on one another to maintain the real, went to my aunt to show her a personal, physical representation of the break she had made in the roundness…to see that her infidelity had already harmed the village” (12-13). The aunt’s unexpected pregnancy was viewed not as an individual trauma but as a violation of the social fabric of the whole community. Silence only furthered this belief.

As Kingston describes the social and economic trauma villagers in China were experiencing, she also weaves in her imagination and empathy for the individual trauma her aunt might have gone through. For example, Kingston deeply empathizes with the trauma of rape that her aunt might have experienced, writing, “I want her fear to have lasted just as long as rape lasted so that the fear could have been contained. No drawn-out fear. But women at sex hazarded birth and hence lifetimes. The fear did not stop but permeated everywhere” (7). Kingston demonstrates how the trauma of rape surpasses time because of its long-lasting emotional and permanent physical impacts. While Kingston cannot change the past, she reveals her understanding of the permeability of emotional trauma across time and generations. Her intent to write her aunt’s story and thereby disobey her mother’s and Chinese culture’s expectations for silence is to stop the fear and trauma from continuing to perpetuate.

Kingston connects the individual with the collective trauma for her contemporary readers which empathy could never bridge in the past because of silence. Kingston contextualizes the trauma of rape in old Chinese culture, wondering, “My aunt could not have been the lone romantic who gave up everything for sex. Women in China did not choose” (6). Her aunt’s ability to have a choice with her sexuality was forbidden in old Chinese culture because of ingrained gender roles. This cultural setting in turn limited the possible understanding and empathy of villagers for any perceived offense of these values. Kingston imagines how these cultural rules may have contributed to her aunt’s trauma. She suspects her aunt’s rapist “was not a stranger…His demand must have surprised, then terrified her. She obeyed him; she always did as she was told” (6-7). Her aunt’s inability to refuse a sexual advance and cultural expectations of female obedience may have contributed to the emotional trauma of rape. Indeed, Kingston visualizes how her aunt was shamed by her family for her pregnancy, perhaps having to eat “at an outcast table” as punishment for her grave disobedience. Her rapist, likely a villager himself, symbolizes how the aunt was traumatized by the very community and family she was born to commit her whole life to. Individual pain clashing with societal trauma prevents the necessary empathy for healing, a perfect storm for tragedy.


In the story, silence represents suppressed emotions, a symbol of shame under cultural oppression. When the aunt got pregnant, she was silent. Her silence likely reflects her shame as she feels uncomfortable sharing her suffering. However, her family and community continued the pattern of silence. When they noticed her pregnancy, “no one said anything. We did not discuss it” (3). Deliberate silence, or the refusal to connect and discuss, often represents underlying shame. The fact that all members of the community were silent as a collective unit indicates that the aunt’s actions had breached communal values. The silence appeared to be caused by suppressed emotions because the village’s mute “counting” during the months of her pregnancy erupted into a sudden, violent raid on her family’s house. Villagers cried while raiding, releasing pent up emotions of sorrow and rage, as they destroyed the family’s most valuable items: food, animals, water, and the comforts of their home. Emotional reactions like when the villagers “swept a broom through the air and loosed the spirits-of-the-broom over our heads. ‘Pig.’ ‘Ghost.’ ‘Pig,’ they sobbed and scolded while they ruined our house,” reveal the more complex experience of trauma and humanize the monsters the villagers might otherwise be perceived by the reader as (5). The fact that they are sobbing and leave the house with “sugar and oranges to bless themselves” indicate that enforcing the punishment was perhaps unwanted but motivated by a deeper fear of the girl’s pregnancy as a threat to the established sense of community they worked so hard to secure in these uncertain times. As their fellow villagers “threw eggs and began slaughtering our stock,” “encircled us…eyes rushing like searchlights,” “smeared blood on the doors,” and carried “knives dripped with blood,” Brave Orchid and her family “stood together in the middle of our house, in the family hall with the pictures and tables of the ancestors around us and looked straight ahead” (4-5). As the villagers appeared crazed and dangerously violent, the family members reacted with still observation and numbness. Surrounded by their ancestors, the aunt had failed to uphold their family name. The raid was a punishment not only on her but also on her family and deceased ancestors. While silence could be the culturally expected way to handle emotions in China, it ultimately prevented the family from processing the traumatic humiliation, betrayal, and fear. This unprocessed trauma has the power to transfer from one generation to the next.

By writing “No Name Woman,” Kingston juxtaposes the power of silence’s shame in perpetuating trauma transfer with the voice’s power to build empathy and break the cycle of trauma. Silence perpetuates the unfortunate transfer of trauma because it empowers shame and prevents the emotional processing of trauma. For example, the story states, “‘You must not tell anyone,’ My mother said, ‘what I am about to tell you. In China, your father had a sister who killed herself. She jumped into the family well. We say that your father has all brothers because it is as if she had never been born”’ (15). Brave Orchid separates Kingston’s aunt from the rest of the family by defining her identity as a spite suicide. The aunt, “she,” is literally separated from the family (“the family well”) in the sentence which reflects the family breakage. The aunt is kept nameless, and she is defined by the end of her existence. Additionally, all responsibility of this nameless identity lies on the aunt as she was the one who “killed herself” and who “jumped into the family well.” The last sentence “as if she had never been born” highlights feelings of resentment that her death was more than an individual choice with singular consequences, as it impacted her family and their reputation. Given the family’s perceived passive role in her death, the deliberate silencing of her life story and identity reflects how the family was traumatized by the humiliation of public shame. By telling this story, the mother hopes to deter her daughter from sexual experimentation, but simultaneously places the burden of shame onto Kingston’s shoulders with her demand for silent secrecy. The traumatic experience is then transgenerational. The pain of rape and rejection motivating the aunts’ suicide develops into her family’s refusal to acknowledge her existence and is then passed onto Kingston to maintain this silent punishment.


While Brave Orchid’s motivation to tell the horror story could be to warn her daughter away from sex using fear, her reliance on fear as a warning tool demonstrates that she has not completely processed her own trauma. Afterall, Brave Orchid was the primary witness of the aunt’s suicide. She “found her [no name woman] and the baby plugging up the well” (5). The word choice of “plugging” demonstrates a lack of humanity and empathy for her death. Her diction is also a reflection of a larger denial of the aunt’s pregnancy leading up to the raid and her death. Brave Orchid consistently emotionally separates herself from her sister-in-law by calling her “your aunt” and refusing to give a name besides “her.” She still has questions about the aunt’s pregnancy but refuses to consider possibilities other than adultery as that means accepting a more traumatic reality of the rejection and suicide of an innocent rape victim. For example, she contemplates out loud how “she could not have been pregnant, you see, because her husband had been gone for years… She was ready to have the child, long after the time when it could have been possible” (3). While she is trying to help Kingston rationalize the pregnancy as adultery, these statements are a rare insight into Brave Orchid’s own incomplete comprehension of the “crime.” The thought of adultery was foreign, traumatic to Brave Orchid’ and the rest of the village’s norms and values. As Freud explained, trauma is caused by the inability of the mind to understand the experience and considering the devastating historical context and cultural views on gender, adultery could be considered traumatic.

By telling the story then, Brave Orchid is resurfacing the event from suppression in order to prevent the traumatic event from repeating with her daughter. However, her premises for using the story to prevent the traumatic event from recurring are rooted in fear rather than a mastery of the emotions that signify the processing of the trauma. For example, she says, “‘Don’t let your father know that I told you. He denies her. Now that you have started to menstruate, what happened to her could happen to you. Don’t humiliate us. You wouldn’t like to be forgotten as if you had never been born” (5). By highlighting that her husband still denies her existence, Brave Orchid is warning her daughter that their family has the power to forget hesr just like her aunt. Therefore, Brave Orchid’s motivation for retelling the trauma hidden behind the words “don’t humiliate us” is because she is afraid of her own capability to deny the existence of her daughter if she crossed this cultural threshold. The mentioning of “the villages are watchful” signifies that they are observing both Kingston’s behavior as well as her mothers’ expected reprimand if this threshold was crossed.

Kingston’s retelling of this traumatic story provides a bridge for American readers to connect with the immigrant and first-generation American experience through the shared understanding of trauma’s effects. Brave Child’s inability to fully process the emotions from the trauma reflects the larger problem that the Asian immigrant community faced in the United States. As Kingston described, “those in the emigrant generations who could not reassert brute survival died young and far from home” (5). America, Kingston describes, was a place of survival or lonely death, something that perhaps contemporary American readership may be unable to relate to. These survival tactics included a commitment to “necessity” such as investment in vegetable gardens instead of unnecessary lawns (6). Her parents had to balance their inherited traumatic experiences of food scarcity in China with the newfound immigrant trauma of hard labor and discrimination in America which affected their American children. Childhood experiences like carnival rides were clouded with guilt as “our tired father counted his change on the dark walk home” (6). From Brave Orchid’s perspective, telling the story of “No Name Woman” to her daughter was also necessary to help her “grow up” and “establish realities” (5). Kingston is revealing that her mother’s motives for telling the horror story of the no name woman had multiple purposes such as a warning against crossing cultural lines as well as out of love to strengthen her daughter for survival in America. By exposing her mother’s complex motivation to American readers, she helps her audience be open to those who have not experienced immigrant survival.

By revealing her personal experience with post-memory, Kingston leads her audience to empathize with the first-generation Chinese American experience. After hearing the story of no name woman, Kingston was beyond frightened of sexual relationships. “As if it came from an atavism deeper than fear,” she writes, “I used to add ‘brother’ silently to boys’ names…Made them less scary and as familiar and deserving of benevolence as girls” (12). The word choice of “atavism,” or a return to something ancestral, mirrors the process of post-memory. As a child she used behaviors to protect herself from sexual encounters that she expected given the traumatic memories of her aunt passed down to her. Adding “brother” to boys’ names, helped her to equate them to girls. It was a mechanism to override her fear of boys. Again, the silence demonstrates her shame for feeling this fear. This time, shame stems from American culture, as the practice of associating “brother” with non-relatives is foreign. Kingston also lived decades in fear of harming her own family with the trauma she carried. “I had believed that sex was unspeakable and words so strong and fathers so frail that ‘aunt’ would do my father mysterious harm…And a wrong word would incite the kinspeople even here,” she wrote (15). Not only was sex dangerous but she believed that her father was still emotionally traumatized by his sisters’ humiliation and death that speaking up about her own fears and questions would open a festering wound. Furthermore, she expected her neighboring Americans to violently react just as her mother had described the villagers did in China. Without a fully formed identity as a child, Kingston couldn’t differentiate between American and Chinese culture and as a result had to balance both cultural expectations to protect herself from social rejection and trauma. She used silence, the method taught by her mother, to protect her family from repeated trauma without realizing the pain and shame growing inside her. Indeed, personal stories can provide message about the larger social issues (Asmus and Antel). When she is older and able to incorporate the Chinese and American cultural elements into her own multicultural identity, she writes “No Name Woman.” Although her aunt still “haunts” her even “after fifty years of neglect,” she now chooses to write her story, an acceptance of American values of individualism and expressive speech (16). Yet, she still worries that the ghost of her aunt does not “always mean me well. I am telling on her, and she was a spite suicide” (16). Through these personal anecdotes of post-memory, Kingston helps the reader to understand the long-term emotional effects of both inherited and current traumas of Chinese Americans.


This paper explored how Kingston’s merging of collective with individual trauma, personal anecdotes of post-memory, and use of silence as a symbol of cultural oppression in “No Name Woman” help to foster literary empathy for the immigrant experience with both inherited and current trauma. Sometimes ostracized from American society, immigrants face trauma from their past homeland as well as experiences like discrimination, social rejection, and violence in America. First-generation Americans, like Maxine Hong Kingston, face the unique challenge of feeling “American,” yet they carry a multicultural mixture of values and traumas when both inherited and current immigration experiences merge. Without the primary experience of their homeland like their parents, storytelling then plays a key role in the transfer of these cultural values and traumas between immigrant parents and their first-generation children. Brave Orchid’s sharing of no name woman models this interaction. On a similar level, storytelling of first-generation immigrants to a contemporary American audience, such as Kingston’s written narration of “No Name Woman,” may transfer the unique traumas of the immigrant community to the native American population. This transfer of trauma knowledge offers the special opportunity to bridge understanding between native and the “other” through empathy.

Works Cited

Anderson, Sarah. W. “Introduction to Part I: Trauma Theory.” Readings of Trauma, Madness, and the Body, Palgrave Macmillan, 2012, pp. 1-13.

Asmus, Briana and Antel, Emma. “Imagination and Empathy: Reframing U.S.-Mexico Border Crossing Narratives.” Language Arts Journal of Michigan, vol. 34, no. 1, 2018, pp. 17-23. https://doi.org/10.9707/2168-149X.2196.

Bousalis, Roula R. The Portrayal of Immigrants in Children’s and Young Adults’ American Trade Books During Two Peak United States Immigration Eras (1880-1930 and 1980-2010s). 2014. University of South Florida, PhD dissertation. https://scholarcommons.usf.edu/etd/5190.

Caruth, Cathy. Unclaimed Experience: Trauma, Narrative and History. The John Hopkins University Press, 1996.

Freud, Sigmund. “Beyond the Pleasure Principle.” The International Psycho-Analytical Library, no. 4, pp. 1-55.

Hirsch, Marianne. The Generation of Post-memory: Writing and Visual Culture After the Holocaust. Columbia University Press, 2012.

Horn, Patrick. Narrative Empathy for “the Other” in American Literature, 1845-1945. 2013. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, PhD dissertation.

Kingston, Maxine H. The Woman Warrior: Memories of a Childhood Among Ghosts. New York, Random House Inc., 1975.

Koopman, Emy & Hakemulder, Frank. (2015). Effects of Literature on Empathy and Self-Reflection: A Theoretical-Empirical Framework. Journal of Literary Theory. 9. 79-111. 10.1515/jlt-2015-0005.

Lundberg, Elizabeth K. Reading Ruptures: Empathy, Gender, and the Literature of Bodily Permeability. 2015. University of Iowa, PhD dissertation.

Markus, H. R. & Kitayama, S. (1991). Culture and the self: Implications for cognition, emotion, and motivation. Psychological Review, 98, 224-253.

Porter, Claire E.”The Intersection of Multiculturalism and Feminism in Kingston’s “’No Name Woman.”’ The Mall, vol. 3 , art. 10, 2019, pp. 40-43. https://digitalcommons.butler.edu/the-mall/vol3/iss1/10.

Setka, Stella. Empathy and the Phantasmic in Ethnic American Trauma Narratives. Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group, 2020.

Yi, Kris. “From No Name Woman to Birth of Integrated Identity: Trauma-Based Cultural Dissociation in Immigrant Women and Creative Integration.” Psychoanalytic Dialogues, vol. 24, 2014, pp. 37–45.

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Alec Leaper


The dream sequence is a common trope employed within literature throughout the world, enabling the depiction of abstract events that provide protagonist characterization and thematic commentary while not necessarily impacting the events of the narrative. This research aims to analyze the dream sequences in post-Civil War American literary works through psychoanalytic criticism in order identify and explore key components of the American identity. To begin, this research explores the evolution of the science of dream interpretation from Freudian psychoanalysis to modern theories based on neurological evidence. Then, a psychoanalytic analysis of Ambrose Bierce’s “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” underscores how the doctrine of American Exceptionalism emboldens the belief in the American Dream and the belief in individual greatness as part of the American identity. Psychoanalytic criticism of dreams depicted in Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? reveals how the novel identifies a uniquely American use of religion as a justification and motivation for individuality and upward social mobility. Finally, understanding how Khaled Hosseini’s A Thousand Splendid Suns connects its American audience to the unique struggles of twentieth century Afghan history through its dream sequence illustrates the American anxiety toward authoritarianism and suppression of civil liberties. Psychoanalytic criticism of these three works of American literature identifies core traits that compose the American identity.

What Dreams May Come: How Psychoanalytic Criticism of Dream Sequences in Literature Define the American Identity

Dreams, Identity, and the American Gothic

One of the most frequently employed tropes within American media is the dream sequence— a lurid, dissociative, abstract scene in a story that places a character in a situation independent from the narrative. Given that the dream sequence occurs within the mind of a character, rather than being a physical occurrence, it provides authors, screenwriters, and storytellers with the flexibility to subject a character to experiences that reveal important information about their core beliefs, values, and attitudes in a scenario independent from the constraints of the story. The dream sequence often conveys character-based information, but can also illustrate details about the society in which the work was written.

In American literature, the dream sequence has a strong connection to the genre of American gothic, as the genre is predicated on the notion that human beings have the capacity to be monstrous, providing the source of horror for a story in contrast to the supernatural notions of British gothic. The dream sequence is able to create ideal scenarios for exploring such an idea. By placing a human being, fictional or otherwise, in an intensely introspective state, such as a dream, where the confines of reality are only dictated by one’s own mind, the trope can create feelings of anxiety and fear due to the potentially unfavorable sides of a person that dreams force to the surface. This is true even in works unrelated to American gothic, illustrating a thread of the genre that runs through much of the American literary canon.

Furthermore, a psychoanalytic criticism of such sequences are able to reveal commentary superseding that of the character, illuminating a greater understanding of the cultural context in which the work was written— in this case, the American identity. This research seeks to understand the core traits of such an identity as this can enrich the understanding of American history, American culture, and the American political climate at a time of the most polarization and division since the Civil War. This research’s importance stems from the fact that understanding these fundamental elements of the American identity can help create a set of ideals that all Americans can identify with, bridging the political gap that has developed throughout the early twenty-first century.

Through the lens of psychoanalytic criticism, the dream sequences in “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge,” Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, and A Thousand Splendid Suns reveal that core traits of the American identity include a belief in the capacity for greatness, spiritual justification for social mobility, and an anxiety toward oppression and authoritarianism.

A Modern Psychoanalysis

The psychoanalytic critical lens within literature provides a perspective on works which reveals the core desires of characters to better understand motivation, and by extension, context and theme. In doing so, a psychoanalytic perspective can further reveal the attitudes, beliefs, and unconscious desires of the author. This research employs this perspective to draw from both the text itself and authorial experience to understand how such themes and attitudes indicate the values of a wider culture.

The lens is based on the works of Sigmund Freud, an Austrian neurologist and widely considered the father of psychology as an understood science. Freud developed a litany of methods for understanding the human mind, such as the pleasure principle and Oedipal complexes, but the most famous of these methods, as well as the one most applicable to literary criticism, is psychoanalysis. This method of understanding human psychology relied on the “collecting and ordering of free associations,” which allowed Freud to develop working hypotheses about the state of a patient based on data gathered with this method (Jones 285). This method was applicable to both the conscious mind, serving as the basis for the Rorschach inkblot test in the 1960s, and also the unconscious, or latent, mind. This was primarily conducted through dream interpretation, drawing on the events in the dream to better understand unconscious desire, as psychoanalysis sought to create a sense of order and structure out of seemingly random ideas and imagery.

Psychoanalysis interprets the unconscious desires of a person and the actions they take as a result through the trichotomy of the id, the ego, and the superego. The id is the part of the unconscious mind that seeks out pleasure, gravitating toward anything that may benefit a person without concern for any potential repercussions or consequences. The id is the most primitive part of the subconscious, acting primarily based off of instinct, while also dealing with sexual and aggressive inclinations. Freud speculated that this is the part of the mind most closely associated with less sophisticated animals and remains in the human mind as a remnant of the common ancestors shared with other primates. As such, it is only interested in the actions that can provide fulfillment through dopamine release, and therefore, pleasure.

The superego is the polar opposite of the id, compelling the mind toward action that foregoes pleasure in place of safety and security. It guides human beings toward behavior that is responsible, secure, and free of negative consequence to the point where it can eliminate the desire for pleasure as a factor entirely. The superego has often been described as the latent mind’s moral conscience; however, such a description omits the potential dangers of a superego with too much control over the mind. With the elimination of pleasure can come the elimination of purpose, damaging the overall health of the psyche and placing a person into a situation that may be physically free of danger but psychologically harmful, which can in turn spur feelings of misery. While an overpowering id can lead to impulsiveness and recklessness, an overpowering superego can lead to isolation and depression.

The final element of Freud’s trichotomy is the ego, which acts as a mitigating factor between the id and the superego. The ego helps the mind make informed, rational decisions that are able to maximize pleasure while also minimizing consequence, motivating the conscious part of the brain to make the most healthy and reasonable choices. It prohibits the id from directing the mind to act too boldly in the pursuit of pleasure while also preventing the superego from isolating the mind from the potential sources of happiness. The ego best fits the role of the subconscious moral compass, as according to Freud, a person is most fulfilled, successful, and mentally healthy when the ego is the primary actor in the latent mind. The ego uses this balance to also understand social cues and norms, which is helpful to understanding the American identity, as these observations reveal universally held principles within a certain culture.

While the id-ego-superego model as suggested by Freud in psychoanalysis was a revolutionary concept that legitimized psychology as a science to be studied using hypotheses, models, and experimentation, it would be an understatement to suggest that the idea is somewhat outdated when considering the advancements made in the field throughout the century since its inception. As such, it is only appropriate that the psychoanalytic lens within literature is updated as well in order to best accommodate recent advancements in understanding the human mind. While a Freudian perspective is still useful to understand the concepts of desire and the mediation between reckless and reserved action in the pursuit of happiness, it is also wise to incorporate new models of approaching the inner workings of the mind.

For the purposes of dream sequences, the best way to employ the current scientific consensus around the topic is through new research into how dreams are formed. While the id-ego-superego model can help explain unconscious desire expressed through dreams, empirical evidence that suggests how dreams are formed can help with creating a more modern model. Neurological evidence suggests that dreams reflect three temporal states, being the “experience of the present, processing of the past, and preparation for the future” (MacDuffie 2). In understanding an interpretation of dreams that looks to a character’s past, present, and future, it can be made clear how different cultural constants within the American identity influence the actions of characters throughout their lives.

An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge

Ambrose Bierce’s short story “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” was published in the San Franscico Examiner in 1890 and the subsequent year in Bierce’s own short story anthology work. Following Confederate slaveowner and politician Peyton Farquhar, the story is primarily told within a dream, as he imagines a heroic escape from execution while a noose is prepped around his neck by Union soldiers due to his attempt to burn down a bridge in order to prevent the northern advance into Alabama. Farquhar’s fictional account of escape ends in his successful return home to his wife at the break of dawn the next day, and just as he is about to embrace her, he feels the crack of the rope around his neck as he is dropped from the bridge and executed.

This dream sequence illustrates Farquhar’s delusions of grandeur in regard to his own abilities, suggesting that he can free his hands from the ropes with ease in a feat of “magnificent human strength” (Bierce 1890). Farquhar routinely suggests that he is capable of actions above the skillset of the average person within the dream, as he imagines avoiding bullets in the water, navigating his way through tremendous currents, and evading capture in the woods for an entire night. However, the reality of his character could not be further from the truth. While Farquhar believes himself capable of heroic achievements, his willingness to see combat wanes when faced with the actual danger of it, noting that “circumstances of an imperious nature” prevented him from serving in the Confederate army. He even goes as far as to claim that the reason why is “unnecessary to relate,” which indicates that he has given a facetious reason in order to obscure his own cowardice.

Through the greater context of the dream as the final thoughts of a dying man, a Freudian analysis of Peyton Farquhar is clear. His id is the notion that he is capable of great feats of heroism and can successfully burn down the bridge and evade capture, and even when he is captured, he believes that escape is feasible, even given how seemingly helpless he is. His superego is the part of him that would tell him not to engage and to accept the Union takeover of the state, but given that he acts impulsively throughout the story and cannot accept even in his dying moments that he is not superhuman, it is apparent that his superego is far less in control than his id. Due to this immense imbalance between the two components of his latent mind, Farquhar is incapable of producing a healthy and moderate ego, with pleasure and success being far more important to him than his own physical safety. As such, the ego can be best understood as creating this dream for himself, providing Farquhar with a few moments of pleasure and imagined safety before his death.

Analyzing the dream through a past-present-future lens also illustrates a similar understanding. The dream possesses a processing of the past, as the fantasy draws on his known experiences, such as the details of his home and his wife, along with a physical understanding of the environment around Owl Creek. It also contains an experience of the present, as Farquhar’s dream occurs as a continuation of his current situation, producing a fictional scenario grounded in the reality of awaiting execution. Finally, the dream helps him prepare for the future in that it helps ease him into his death, providing a comforting and heroic fantasy as his last moments as opposed to the fear and despair of life’s end. Furthermore, this is reinforced by the “circularity and repetition that signal transition to death,” as the rhetoric of certain scenes evokes the shutting down of many of Farquhar’s mental faculties (Briefel 101). Descriptions such as how “he felt himself whirled round and round” while “he had been caught in a vortex that made him giddy and sick” demonstrate that during his dream, many components of his psyche are preparing to shut down as he subconsciously accepts the certainty that he is going to die (Bierce 1890).

While a psychoanalytic criticism of the dream is helpful in establishing Farquhar’s latent beliefs and desires, understanding how the story reflects on the American identity is predicated on understanding Ambrose Bierce’s background and his relationship with American exceptionalism. American exceptionalism is often described as a doctrine that suggests that the United States is committed to the preservation of civil liberties and human rights to a degree never before seen in human history, and its distinction as a unique and exceptional nation is due to this fact. The idea has been heavily criticized throughout American history, most notably and vocally by linguist and neuroscientist Noam Chomsky, who suggested that its primary issue is that “there is nothing particularly American about it,” as it is something that every nation believes about itself (Chomsky’s Philosophy 2:33).

However it may be criticized within academic circles, the notion is one that has remained intensely popular throughout American history, and Bierce was one such subscriber. Fueled by a belief in American exceptionalism, Bierce thought himself capable of greatness in a similar manner to Farquhar, declaring at the end of his life his desire to fight in the Mexican Revolution and die a hero. Despite this, many scholars believe that Bierce actually took his own life due to a combination of his repeated suggestion that suicide was a noble act and his depressive thoughts reflected in letters of correspondence (Abrams 1991) (Grenander 12-18).

The parallels between Bierce and Farquhar at the end of their lives indicate that Bierce did not see Farquhar’s character flaw, that being his id and his belief in his own greatness, as something unique to the character, but as something that is inherent within the American identity more broadly. Given that Bierce identified with Farquhar in believing in one’s own exceptionalism, a psychoanalytic reading of “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” illustrates that Bierce is asserting that due to the prominence and impact of American exceptionalism on the national psyche, a core aspect of the American identity is the belief in one’s capacity for greatness.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

First published in 1968, Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? depicts an early twenty-first century America ensnared within a dystopia of its own creation, nearly unrecognizable from the world at the time of publication due to both an astronomical acceleration in technological development and the ramifications of nuclear fallout brought on by a third World War. In response to this apocalyptic habitat, the governments of Earth have encouraged the emigration to off-world colonies stationed on Mars, and the only humans that remain in the United States are about a million people who are either so badly damaged by radiation that they are deemed below the threshold of mental capacity for emigration, or too impoverished to afford living on Mars. The novel, which would later serve as the basis for the 1982 film Blade Runner and the cyberpunk subgenre as a whole, is a hallmark of the American science fiction genre, and found instant success in its portrayal of government failings during the countercultural movements of late 1960s America.

Those who remain on Earth are captivated by a religion known as Mercerism, which is conveyed to the general public through a device known as an ‘empathy box,’ which possesses metal handles that carry electric currents into the body and begin the dream. The dreamer finds themselves at the bottom of a mountain with the prophet Wilbur Mercer, who begins to climb the mountain with the dreamer. As they climb, those at the base of the mountain cast stones toward the two, and the damage of the stones carries over into real life. The dreamer lets go of the empathy box, thus ending the dream, when the pain of the stoning becomes too much. The goal within the religion is to reach the top of the mountain, withstanding the pain and achieving enlightenment. The dream is experienced collectively, as the dreamer’s “feet now scraped across the familiar loose stones… as it did for everyone who at that moment clutched the handles” (Dick 21-22).

A Freudian analysis provides less of an understanding of an individual in particular, but more so an understanding of the collective consciousness of America as the general public goes on this spiritual journey. The id is the desire to reach an enlightened state and escape the nihilistic misery of meaningless life in a post-apocalyptic world. The superego is represented by the stoning of the dreamer, as the pain is a consequence of the seeking of pleasure that the mind hopes to avoid. The ego, mediating between the two, manifests as the dreamer releasing the handles at their breaking point, climbing as much of the mountain as they can but stopping before the stones cause an unbearable amount of pain and damage. Furthermore, the past-present-future interpretation of dreams also fits the scenario; the past is recalled as the dreamer fears their return to a meaningless life, the present is experienced as the dreamer contemplates their ability to find a way out of their nihilistic existence, and the future is prepared for as they climb the mountain and withstand the stoning to strengthen themselves with the expectation of spiritual enlightenment.

A psychoanalytic criticism of the novel’s dream illustrates that part of the American identity is spiritual justification for social mobility, and this is established by the novel equating three concepts— religious enlightenment, connection to technology, and social mobility. Religious enlightenment is tied to technology through the use of the empathy box as a means of experiencing religion through a primary source, establishing that the boxes are to Mercerism as holy texts are to Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. The novel also equates the access to this technology to social mobility, as futuristic tech is used as a sign of social status and class within the novel, with high-end flying cars representing the upper class and robotic pets as a symbol of the lower class, unable to afford a near-extinct genuine dog, cat, or sheep.

This connection between religious enlightenment and social mobility mirrors many aspects of American history, as at the heart of social mobility is the individualism that is “deeply embedded in Puritan culture” (Johnson 231). The ability to rise in social class and build oneself up from nothing is at the heart of the American Dream, fueled by a notion of individualism that is connected to America’s religious roots. The novel illustrates that part of the American identity is the spiritual justification for undergoing this journey of socioeconomic self-bettering, and this remains true even for nonreligious Americans. The faith that one holds while trying to achieve the American Dream can be a simple faith in one’s own ability, like is suggested in “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge.” While the novel uses an actual religion as its symbol of justification, this can be the case with any sort of faith in an ideal that goes beyond the physical world.

The novel also illustrates that part of the American identity is the potential pitfalls of this intense focus on individualism. Toward the end of the novel, it is revealed that Mercerism is a scam that seeks to exploit the population through their willingness to believe in their ability to better their situation. Mercerism asserts that true enlightenment is fusion with Mercer, becoming a part of a collective with greater meaning than any individual life could ever have. The exploitative aspect of the religion hinges on capitalizing on the dreamer’s id, as it entices Americans to escape the very individualism that motivates them toward Mercerism in the first place, illustrating the “dehumanizing effects of individualism” (Sims 67). Whether it leads to a net positive or negative impact on the individual’s life, a core element of the American identity is this spiritual justification for social mobility.

A Thousand Splendid Suns

Published in 2007, Khaled Hosseini’s A Thousand Splendid Suns details both the beauty and tragedy of the modern history of Afghanistan, using two female protagonists from different generations to cover the Soviet occupation of the country, the various civil conflicts, and the eventual takeover by the Taliban before US invasion. While the novel is considered part of the American literary canon as Hosseini is an Afghan-American and the novel is written in English and published in the United States, the story is set entirely within Afghanistan with no narrative connection to the US other than an allusion to the September 11th attacks in the final chapters of the novel. This presents it with the unique challenge of commenting on the American identity without using the country within the story. Through a psychoanalytic criticism of the novel’s dream sequence, it is revealed how the work connects with an American audience through understanding that part of the American identity is an anxiety toward authoritarianism and oppression.

The dream sequence occurs in the middle portion of the novel, when the protagonist, Laila, has a nightmare about burying her young daughter alive the night following an argument with her abusive, Taliban-connected husband, Rasheed, who wants to send their daughter to an orphanage in order to save money. As Laila buries her daughter, she tells her that it will be “only for a while,” and that she will dig her out “when the raids are over,” making an excuse in place of the systemic oppression toward women in their society of which Laila wants to prevent her daughter from being the victim (Hosseini 290).

In a Freudian interpretation of the nightmare, Laila’s id embodies her wish to be free of her oppressive society, regardless of the potential consequences. This is even addressed in other sections of the novel, such as when Laila recklessly attempts to escape to Pakistan through a poorly-thought out plan that only results in beatings from Rasheed. When Laila’s id is in control, she takes reckless actions that put herself and potentially her children in danger while pursuing freedom. Laila’s superego reflects the opposite attitude, where she puts her and her children’s safety before any notion of freedom. Much of Laila’s life is dominated by her superego, as she spends years trying to create a happy environment for her children while being subjugated to the full brutality of her society in the form of her husband. The act of burying her daughter in the nightmare represents the deepest fear that her ego will conclude that the only rational decision that can be made that allows her to survive is to fully suppress everything that brings joy to her life, which in this case is her daughter.

The past-present-future model also demonstrates this. The dream deals with her daughter, who while also being her greatest joy, is also a reminder of her husband and her marriage throughout many years of suffering, representing her past. The dream is also allegorical to her present situation, as she fears she must push away her daughter, either for her own protection or by the command of Rasheed. Finally, it represents a future in which she may lose her daughter entirely, as promising that she will dig her daughter up when the raids end subtextually refers to the end of Taliban rule, which she believes may never come, consigning her daughter to the grave permanently.

Understanding Laila’s id and superego helps to understand how Hosseini uses the oppressive society that in which Laila lives in order to appeal to the American audience’s aversion to authoritarianism and desire to protect civil liberties. While the novel’s narrative does not identify this aspect of the American identity innately, it does use its understanding of it to create an increased sense of empathy within its audience. In surveying political identity, a “positive correlation between national identity and political involvement was found” (Huddy 75), and it is also true that political and “community leaders are more concerned about civil liberties than the general public” (Selvin and Hagstrom 51). When comparing the data of these two surveys, it becomes clear that the group most concerned with civil liberties is the same group that feels the most in tune with national identity, illustrating that protecting human rights and opposing authoritarianism is an aspect of the American identity.

Hosseini understands this fact, and psychoanalytic criticism reveals how he uses it to engage with a primarily American audience. Laila’s id and superego are not just representations of her psychological state, but also her physical and political state. Just as she is trapped between the ideals of freedom and safety, she is trapped between a world that subjugates her to systemic oppression and a hypothetical world free of this oppression. Due to the disdain for oppression within the American identity, Hosseini makes Laila a more sympathetic character by placing her in a struggle between the responsibilities of keeping herself and her children safe, and the potential for a better, freer life.

Concluding Analysis

The dream sequence is a trope within American literature that allows the author to place a character in a realm independent of the world of the narrative in order to reveal characteristics of both the protagonist and the society which the protagonist inhabits. However, a psychoanalytic criticism of these sequences in American literature allows for the identification of commentary about American culture, and by extension, the American identity.

Within Ambrose Bierce’s “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge,” the imbalance of power in the direction of Peyton Farquhar’s id reveals how his dream represents his delusions of grandeur. Further analysis of Ambrose Bierce’s life illustrates the parallels between author and character, and when comparing the impact of American exceptionalism on Bierce to the unconscious mind of Farquhar, it is clear how the work asserts that part of the American identity is the belief in one’s capacity for greatness.

Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? depicts a dystopian future of America in which a corporate-backed religion sells the promise of meaning in a nihilistic world through a device that promises spiritual enlightenment. A psychoanalytic criticism of the dream of Mercerism and a comparison to the historical origins of the notion of individualism demonstrates that the work suggests another part of the American identity is the spiritual justification for social mobility.

While Khaled Hosseini’s A Thousand Splendid Suns may not directly address the subject of the American identity, it uses its understanding of it to appeal to its American audience. Americans who support the protection of civil liberties at the highest rates also have the highest sense of national identity, and the novel uses Laila’s situation in which she lacks liberty to make her a more sympathetic character, appealing to an American audience who holds a support for human rights and an aversion to authoritarian oppression as part of their national identity.

Be it the support for protecting civil liberties, spiritual justification for social mobility, or the belief in the capacity for greatness, aspects of the American identity are made clear from the psychoanalytic criticism of dream sequences in American literature.

Works Cited

Abrams, Garry. “Stranger Than Fiction: Mystery: The case of Ambrose Bierce, the disappearing author, may have been solved by the publisher of a new collection of the writer’s short stories.” The Los Angeles Times, 25 Jun. 1991. https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-1991-06-25-vw-1440-story.html. Accessed 4 May 2021.

Bierce, Ambrose. “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge.” The San Francisco Examiner, 1890.

Briefel, Aviva. “What Some Ghosts Don’t Know: Spectral Incognizance and the Horror Film.” Narrative, vol. 17, no. 1, 2009, pp. 95–110. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/30219292. Accessed 28 Apr. 2021.

Dick, Philip Kindred. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Doubleday, 1968.

Grenander, M. E. “Seven Ambrose Bierce Letters.” The Yale University Library Gazette, vol. 32, no. 1, 1957, pp. 12–18. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/40859393. Accessed 11 May 2021.

Hosseini, Khaled. A Thousand Splendid Suns. Riverhead Books, 2007.

Huddy, Leonie, and Nadia Khatib. “American Patriotism, National Identity, and Political Involvement.” American Journal of Political Science, vol. 51, no. 1, 2007, pp. 63–77. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/4122906. Accessed 28 Apr. 2021.

Johnson, Ellwood. “Individualism and the Puritan Imagination.” American Quarterly, vol. 22, no. 2, 1970, pp. 230–237. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/2711646. Accessed 28 Apr. 2021.

Jones, Ernest. “Freud’s Theory of Dreams.” The American Journal of Psychology, vol. 21, no. 2, 1910, pp. 283–308. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/1413004. Accessed 6 Apr. 2021.

MacDuffie, Katherine, and Mashour, George. “Dreams and the Temporality of Consciousness.” The American Journal of Psychology, vol. 123, no. 2, 2010, pp. 189–197. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5406/amerjpsyc.123.2.0189. Accessed 6 Apr. 2021.

“Noam Chomsky on American Exceptionalism.” YouTube, uploaded by Chomsky’s Philosophy, 26 June 2020. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7bsYOQltflA

Selvin, Hanan C., and Warren O. Hagstrom. “Determinants of Support for Civil Liberties.” The British Journal of Sociology, vol. 11, no. 1, 1960, pp. 51–73. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/587043. Accessed 5 May 2021.

Sims, Christopher A. “The Dangers of Individualism and the Human Relationship to Technology in Philip K. Dick’s ‘Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?’.” Science Fiction Studies, vol. 36, no. 1, 2009, pp. 67–86. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/25475208. Accessed 28 Apr. 2021.

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Katherine Shaver

Controlling Your Emotions


For nearly a century, Winnie-the-Pooh has captivated children and adults alike with spectacular adventures and imagination, childlike curiosity and whimsy, and everlasting friendships. The connection shared between Christopher Robin, Pooh Bear, and all of the other tattered and matted, cherished stuffed companions, who live among the picturesque Hundred Acre Wood, surely remains timeless. This admirable Bear has won the hearts of many generations with his determination, loyalty, and unwavering camaraderie, as well as his humor, lightheartedness, and innocent foolishness. “The world’s most famous bear, with his simple line-drawn illustration and gentle philosophical musings” (Salter, 2017) has shaped minds of all ages, evoking bittersweet emotions and fond memories of a simpler time of carefree reminiscence and bliss.

This warmhearted, adoring creation of Winnie-the-Pooh and his amusing “Expotitions” originated from much different and unfathomable circumstances, however. The storytelling of a romanticized childhood stemmed from unforgiving internal and personal anguish, and inevitably the perpetual escape from such torment. According to the United Kingdom’s Royal Signals Museum, the traumatic background that was A.A. Milne’s “nightmare of mental and moral degradation,” resulted from his experiences while serving as Second Lieutenant in the Western Front during one of the darkest and goriest battles of World War I – the Somme Offensive. Milne’s literary reputation and writing style shifted after witnessing warfare, and he credited his jarring memories of combat toward an escape in writing about childhood innocence. (Karbiener and Stade). This helped Milne cope by vicariously living through the therapeutic simplicity, silliness, and safety of Winnie-the-Pooh’s stories, while also helping humanity find hope, humor, and something to hold onto during a harrowing season.

A.A. Milne’s stories of trials and triumphs through friendship and fellowship in, The Complete Tales of Winnie- the-Pooh, with E.H. Shepard’s intricate illustrations included, helped a crippled nation recovering from the devastation of WWI rediscover solace in an unknowing time. Although this was experienced through the make-believe play and hillside explorations of a carefree child and his unforgettable and beloved stuffed animals, the emotions and events are genuine. The world was able to heal and connect with a “Silly Old Bear” through unbreakable and deep bonds, reassurance in troubling times, sharp wit and comic relief, and eventually the gradual acknowledgment of having to grow up, and with that, saying goodbye and letting go of childish folly.


Milne introduced the world to an endearing friendship through the inseparable bond between a Boy and his Bear in the Hundred Acre Wood. When most of the nation was discovering how to survive while persisting and navigating through life without their loved ones, some authors, such as T.S. Eliot, were writing about the surreal chaos which was surrounding society (O’Connor). Milne, on the other hand, created a spectacular world overflowing with childlike wonder, and captivated readers with friends who they could turn to in every neck of the Wood. There is encouragement and hope in always knowing that Someone, at least in their “Brain,” has a solution and answer for absolutely everything in their quaint haven, while also being a nurturing, supportive ally at all times, uniting and leading the community. Whether it is teaching Spelling or explaining lessons of Education and Ethics, sitting with someone while they are jammed in a tight place, or devising the masterplan to rescue Tigger and Roo from the tallest towering tree branches, (Milne 234), the inhabitants of the Forest are never alone.

Meaningful moments are strewn throughout Milne’s work, but the reader gets an intimate glimpse of Christopher Robin’s love and favoritism for his worn-out, shabby Bear when Pooh casually happens to get himself wedged in Rabbit’s front door. Instead of chastising or criticizing Winnie-the-Pooh, (Connolly 1995), Christopher Robin lovingly, patiently, and affectionately smiles at him and tells him that he is a “Silly Old Bear.” (Milne 27). Every character, including the reader, breathes a sigh of relief as they begin brainstorming ideas on how to get unstuck together. Even when plans do not follow the path Pooh would have preferred, it is not as dismal as it appears, because Christopher Robin sits with Pooh daily, keeping him company, uplifting his spirit, and reading “Sustaining Books” (Milne 28) to him, until he can easily slip out of his predicament.

In the same fashion, the reader and listener are also included in witnessing another heartfelt moment between these two best friends. This occurs as Christopher Robin stumbles upon a wobbly, clumsy Pooh Bear, who is awkwardly bumbling about the Forest with a honey pot stuck on his head. This subsequently frightens and embarrasses Piglet, but Christopher Robin reacts differently and is not at all alarmed. Again, instead of questioning any rationality or becoming short, Christopher Robin immediately, proudly, and humbly exclaims with a chuckle to Pooh, oh, “How I do love you!” (Milne 69). This compassion and adoration for another is pure and sincere, and Milne lets everyone be a pivotal part of it.

One also cannot forget the affection and thoughtfulness which Pooh, Piglet, and Eeyore exchange among each other, as well, with their innocent and thoughtful gestures and their attempts to cheer one another up. In chapter 6, In Which Eeyore Has a Birthday and Gets Two Presents, Pooh and Piglet make it their mission to bring Eeyore happiness for his birthday, so they specifically go to surprise him with festivities and merriment. Neither Pooh nor Piglet have new gifts for their friend, but they do have items that are important and priceless to them – a jar full of honey and a red, shiny balloon. Obviously, if it is valuable to them, it would only make sense that these items would also instill joy and elation for their dear friend Eeyore, too.

However, along the way, Pooh’s tummy rumbles like one would expect, resulting in him slurping down every last “Smackerel” of honey, and poor Piglet pitifully pops the brilliantly bright balloon, while excitedly rushing to Eeyore. Again, when they think all hope is lost, the opposite holds true. Eeyore ends up cherishing the broken items even more so than if they were intact and pristine, and proudly and enthusiastically shows them off while tinkering and playing with his new prized possessions. Everyone can feel Eeyore’s thankfulness, as his actions demonstrate sincere happiness and gratitude for the thought and time put into him, making the gifted objects hold a higher sentimental value. As simple as it seems, Piglet’s “Something” and Pooh’s “Useful Pot” make Eeyore “as happy as could be…” (Milne 87), and in turn, make Pooh and Piglet beam from ear to ear, as well.

Once again, A.A. Milne shows immense enthusiasm and affection for everyday events involving Pooh and Piglet’s interpersonal interactions and daily discussions, while casually strolling home one evening. The following pleasant and carefree conversation occurs between the two pals, conveniently as the sun is setting, adding to the melodious rapport:

““When you wake up in the morning, Pooh,” said Piglet, at last, “what’s the first thing you say to yourself?” “What’s for breakfast?” said Pooh. “What do you say Piglet?” “I say, I wonder what’s going to happen exciting today?” said Piglet. Pooh nodded thoughtfully. “It’s the same thing,” he said.”” (Milne 158). One cannot help but smile when musing over this delightful and good-hearted chat, and that was absolutely Milne’s intention.

There is yet another comforting moment of reassurance when a weary and worried Piglet reaches out for and grasps Pooh’s paw, while they nervously wander the woods, unknowingly lost under Rabbit’s Leadership. Whenever Piglet is fearful, he craves the immediate soothing gratification that can only be found in Pooh’s comforting, physical touch. Even though Piglet expresses that “Nothing” is wrong and that he only wanted to be sure of his friend’s presence, (Milne 284), his body still craves and requires that tactile assurance that everything will truly be copacetic. Piglet had always trusted that Pooh was his Knight in shining armor, well before Christopher Robin’s ceremonious dubbing of him, (Milne 341) and because of this, he could feel his shield of protection cover his timid body with the instantaneous touch of Pooh Bear’s fluffy paw.

In the same way, Milne allows the reader into Piglet and Winnie-the-Pooh’s comforting bond when Piglet has another episode of alarm and anxiety over things which have not even happened yet. As his little mind is racing and contemplating the inconceivable, unsurprisingly filling his head with more doubt and fear, he summons Pooh out loud. Piglet, seemingly already expecting a hopeful reply, questions, “Supposing a tree fell down, Pooh, and we were underneath it.” Pooh then replied after careful thought, “Supposing it didn’t,” (Milne 297). There is comfort and reassurance in the way these friends communicate and interact, look out for one another, and intentionally lift each other up. This brings a warm smile to the outsider’s face because they know there is nothing to be concerned about and there is no real reason to fret within the Hundred Acre Wood.

Furthermore, Milne demonstrates how even the most terrifying and intimidating situations can be confronted, solved, and conquered together and with the assistance of others. Whether it be fictitious phobias of Heffalumps, Jagulars, or Backsons, or legitimate and very real issues of War, homelessness, depression, or being rescued during a natural disaster, there will always be hope and optimism in knowing that “just when things look their bleakest,” (Canham 25), a true friend will reveal themselves in their time of need. Even if someone is struggling at the bottom of a dark pit and cannot see their way out, whether that be because there is a honey pot stuck on their head, or because reality is legitimately too deep and there is no fathomable escape, a friend will appear while strolling along and lovingly help them out. Stephen Canham, a retired English Professor from the University of Hawaii, explains this reassurance most eloquently with these words, “there is beauty, order, and harmony”…”despite the apparent confusion and chaos of the world,” which guarantees that “…all of life’s crises…can and will turn out right.”


It is necessary to briefly address that each toy possesses uniquely remarkable traits and distinguishing qualities, as well. It is important to remember that although a rarity of other scholarly critics, such as Sheila Egoff, a former Professor of Librarianship at the University of British Columbia, would dispute, these comrades are not simply static, “one-dimensional” characters. They do have particular mannerisms, attributes, and contradictions, and they frequently show this and achieve notable progress throughout Milne’s writing. These fictional playthings with humanized personalities should not be underestimated or devalued, as their subtle complexities and charismatic charm would be completely and utterly lost.

Although Paul Wake and the “prolific and versatile writer,” Humphrey Carpenter (Anderson 217), are also in agreeance, Winnie-the-Pooh is not merely “a series of incidents which could be put in any order,” and it is an objectionable insult to think so. Pooh and the gang are much more intricate and complicated than the surface reveals, and they show definite and concrete growth, development, and reasoning throughout each chapter and circumstance. To undermine the depth of each personage is quite discouraging to the effort and genius invested within each character. Afterall, this is an Enchanted place where dreams come true – where an underestimated Bear solves unimaginable problems, a small schoolboy “gains respect and adulation” from his peers, a misunderstood Eeyore “writes a [beautiful] poem of love,” and a fainthearted Piglet becomes fearless – befitting that of a “brave and noble hero.” (Connolly 1995). These protagonists are undoubtedly more than meets the eye.

These multifaceted characters help the onlooker relate their outside tangible experiences, internal thoughts, and varying conflicts to the character’s progress, notions, and events. These imperative specifics weave themselves throughout every encounter, and as each plush persona is “transformed into seemingly breathing ones with complicated lives of their own,” as stated by Ellen Tremper, both fictitious and physical children and adults wait intently for the “miraculous life-giving metamorphosis to begin.” One must remember, despite the fact that these truly are inanimate stuffed animals, each character has a distinct, unforgettable, and relatable personality and charm, complete with worn-out wear-and-tear from Christopher Robbin’s loving and exuberant excursions. These toys and their tumultuous voyages are very real to Christopher Robin, and especially to the devoted reader. Consider also, as Paula T. Connolly, Professor of English at the University of North Carolina, penned, these friends’ “adventures may begin as external ones, but in the end they are internal journeys to hunt and tame…fears.” 


The subtly satirical and sophisticated humor which Milne so graciously, respectfully, and strategically places in each particular character, their personalities, and the plot, commanding comical prominence to the storyline in its entirety, should not be overlooked. Again, Ellen Tremper, Professor and Chair of the English Department at Brooklyn College, provides valuable insight, as these “humorous books written for children, or, I should say, for adults” are “the most delightfully arch, witty, and humorous” events to be articulated. After all, even ancient aphorisms have taught that “laughter is the best medicine,” and despite the triteness of that expression, it rings true when following Pooh and the Crew around, while laughing at all of their shenanigans and humming along on their way. Their amusing antics will undoubtedly leave enduring memories of laughter, which is undeniably therapeutic in and of itself.

Milne delicately integrates satire and irony in more respects than just the outspoken prose, but also through E.H. Shepard’s accompanying sketches, “which are irrevocably wedded to the text,” as Stephen Canham illustrates. There are multiple understated instances where “[Milne] wittily points to the absurdities in language that we ignore,” such as italicized and capitalized wording and accentuation, “which become very amusing when we pay them any attention,” emphasizes Ellen Tremper. The most obvious ridiculousness, though, being the multiple careless misspellings, which are precariously stationed all around the forest, nailed on rickety wooden signs and left on notes from a young child who has not yet obtained any formal Education. The phonetic sounding of each phrase is sloppily written, instead of correctly spelled out, just as a child would scribble on items – like Pooh’s jars of “Hunny” and Owl’s notifications around his door reading, “PLES RING IF ANRNSER IS REQIRD” and “PLEZ CNOKE IF AN RNSR IS NOT REQID.”(Milne, Shepard 47).

In the same manner, Ellen Tremper conveys how “Milne delights in exploding the idiomatic language of adults, so opaque to children, by supplying very literal translations that answer a child’s desire for pictorial representation.” This is seen again on damaged sign boards and with the explanations given behind them, which are posted on or near the homes of other characters in the Hundred Acre Wood. Piglet justifies his broken sign which reads, “TRESSPASSERS W,” (Milne 32, Shepard 33) as a family name that has been passed down through generations, and not the actual representation and eminent danger of a “No Trespassing” warning. Even Good Ole Winnie-the-Pooh owns a sign above his door which reads, “MR SANDERZ,” and the only obvious and logical explanation is that “It means he had the name over the door in gold letters, and lived under it.” (Milne 2).

Continuing in the repartee, Milne creates imaginary words for make-believe creatures that are fun and exciting to speak aloud. Hearing how “Heffalumps” and other wonky words, like “Woozles” and “Wizzles” roll off the tip of the tongue with enunciation, while exploring on an “Expotition,” can be something quite comical, and will bring a glimpse of much-needed liveliness and joy to anyone, no matter the age or understanding. Additionally, there are stimulating and elaborated sounds to pronounce, which seem sporadically strewn about, such as Tigger’s boisterous introduction into the Forest as he vociferously clamors, “Worraworraworraworraworra” (Milne 185) and again while he is discovering that he really is not an enthusiast for haycorns, either. (Milne 191). While children certainly appreciate the narratives, their often exquisitely side-splitting humor, clever word play, and ironic witticisms, go above a child’s comprehension and are almost exclusively available to the adults reading to children. (Temper 33, 34). However, still, no epigram goes unnoticed or unappreciated.

In addition to playing with wording and written language, Milne adds hilarity and humor to his characters through foolishness and sheer silliness, even and especially if, they are going through difficult and confusing times. Throughout each scenario, the reader takes on the role of the omniscient observer, standing outside of the action and acknowledging how the characters respond to, or overreact to, the situation. This comic relief is seen frequently throughout the group’s travels, such as, In Which Pooh and Piglet Go Hunting and Nearly Catch a Woozle, when Piglet and Pooh Bear are duped by their own footprints and believe they are joined by not only a Woozle, but at least one Wizzle too, and possibly even multiple Woozles and Wizzles! The bystander obviously knows the truth all along, which cleverly adds to the comedy.

Similarly, when Owl and Rabbit become confused over a misspelled note, they automatically jump to ridiculous conclusions and believe Christopher Robin has gone somewhere with “the Spotted and Herbaceous Backson.” (Milne 245,255). They allow their imaginations to run wild and get away from them as well. This lack of understanding and education is not to embarrass the toys or to show some level of stupidity or ignorance, but to demonstrate how a child and his imaginary stuffed animals would react to and in this situation. The observer laughs sympathetically with these tiny beings, “whose stratagems imitate,” in a childish manner, adult attempts to solve problems. (Tremper 36). To them, this is how they can use logic and problem-solving skills to work out their world independently.

Excitedly, A.A. Milne continues this path of humor through comments, remarks, and playful teasing, straight from the characters mouths and contemplations. Immediately upon entering the living room and the story, Pooh Bear is seen being tenderly tugged behind Christopher Robin, while bumping his head on each stair and considering that there really has to be “another way” to get up and down those stairs, “if only he could stop bumping for a moment and think of it.” (Milne 1, 159). Again, Pooh relieves the writer and the reader with comedy as he is wedged and stuck in Rabbit’s door and Christopher Robin tells Pooh, after a brief banter back-and-forth, that “You can stay here all right, silly old Bear. It’s getting you out which is so difficult.” (Milne 28).

Even funnier are the dialogues and subtle exchanges between Piglet and Pooh Bear. For instance, when Pooh is traveling about absentmindedly to visit Piglet, his humming along becomes a distraction, making him think that, for some unknown reason, Piglet could not possibly be at home, but that he was “out.” Obviously, it comes to Pooh’s great surprise as he continues moseying along and happens to stumble upon Piglet, who is sitting quietly in his armchair and voicing the quick quip, “no, it’s you who were out, Pooh.”(Milne 168-169). More hilarity ensues as Pooh tumbles into the same Pit that Piglet had just previously plummeted. As Pooh is excitedly hopeful and blindly searching for Piglet, he is completely unaware that he has fallen on top of, and is currently squashing, his pocket-sized pal. Piglet announces for Pooh to “Get up!” because he was “underneath” him “in an underneath sort of way.” (Milne 207-208). Everyone can laugh at this silly interaction between the two friends and the hysterics intertwined within their confusion.

Still, Ellen Tremper emphasizes that “the side-splitting laughs come from the ironic and sarcastic wit of…Eeyore.” No one expects the ornery, depressed donkey to spout the deadpan wit and comebacks that he so easily does, which is why each character’s growth and attributes are crucial. Eeyore bluntly and quickly says, as Tremper points out, “what we wish we could have said” in that moment, but unfortunately, not everyone is as spontaneous and sharp thinking as him. Eeyore immediately displays this dry sarcasm just seconds into meeting Tigger, and although he clearly has no regard for how others may feel as he outright asks, “when is he going?”, part of the pleasure is found in his cynical drollness and impulsive boldness.

Again, the brilliance of Eeyore’s biting remarks appears after he has accidently fallen into the river where everyone, except Eeyore, was playing a rousing game of Poohsticks. While spinning and floating aimlessly along with the current, Eeyore sarcastically replies rhetorically to himself that he is “Waiting for somebody to help me out of the river? Right.” (Milne 262). Once Eeyore is finally rescued from the babbling brook, Piglet reaches out to feel his sopping fur and realizes how truly drenched he is. Although Piglet is genuinely concerned about him, Eeyore snaps off with, “somebody…explain to Piglet what happen[s] when you [have] been inside a river for quite a long time.” (Milne 265). One can only imagine the dramatic eyerolls which follow, as Eeyore’s ripostes “tickle as they prick.” (Tremper 43).


Regretfully, even in the Hundred Acre Wood, time does not stand still or wait for Christopher Robin anymore. There are lectures to attend, Wars to fight, loved ones to bury, economies and homes to rebuild, and minds to heal. School has unavoidably entered the forest through the experiences of Christopher Robin and have trickled down through the whimsical companions who try to emulate him. Now, it is Christopher Robin who is seeking the refuge and respite found only among his beloved and fascinating friends, and he is especially pleased and content when the animals do come to visit him. (Connolly 1995). It is Christopher Robin who is experiencing overwhelming anxiety, unreasonable fears, and continual nervousness nowadays. It is he who needs to retreat with his troop, while being rescued from his troubles, instead of his toys searching out for his guidance.

Unfortunately for Christopher Robin, the substantial fear of losing his toys and days of imaginary play has become an overwhelming and profound reality. “For [Christopher Robin] knew now where [he] was going…and, being grown up, [he] did not run and jump and sparkle along as [he] used to when [he] was younger.” (Milne 256). He is hopelessly, yet fully aware that the unhurried and leisurely days of frolicking and doing “Nothing” are not as feasible as once before (Milne 342), and he will not be allowed to continue with his amusing charades and lighthearted pastimes. Now, there are obligations, responsibilities, and matters of the utmost importance to address and attend to. Time is no longer surreal or paused in motion, as it is now just a dreadful actuality.

Despite the fact that his escape to the Forest will vanish one day, and sorrowfully soon, Christopher Robin longs to embrace the coattails of his limited adolescence, which he is currently experiencing while simultaneously living in two, separate yet overlapping worlds. (Connolly 1995). Many readers, likewise, tend to weep as they read the final chapter of Winnie-the-Pooh, evoking in hindsight, their own mourning and loss of innocence, comparable to that of Christopher Robin, as they remember that they too have forgotten to return to their childhood Utopia. Unfortunately, Paula T. Connolly reiterates to one and all, that this day-to-day escapade is now only “a remembered rather than a present place…waiting only in dreams and memories.”

Recall also “the last pitiful sentence of the book, in which Milne asserts that in some sense Pooh and Christopher Robin ‘will always be playing,” (Crews 84)” (Wake 2009). This is actually a clever ruse designed to divert attention away from the harsh reality that Christopher Robin is “dashing away from us forever,” as acknowledged by Frederick Crews, Professor emeritus of English at the University of California, and Paul Wake. It is intended to console the Empath, but in retrospect, Christopher Robin’s promise to return to and never forget Pooh is woefully abandoned, consequently crippling the reader, and obviously the tossed-aside stuffed animals, to their core. Christopher Robin is halting all folly, and even the “Bear of Very Little Brain” comes to the heartbreaking realization that “Christopher Robin won’t tell [him] anymore,” so he will have to continue being faithful in his Knightly position of Valor, Valiance, and Honor, “without being told things.” (Milne 342).

Everything is now permanently dusted with a bittersweet poignancy as the reader recalls that there has never been, and never will be, a simpler time. There will be no more playing or doing Nothing, because frankly, “they don’t let you” (Milne 342) anymore. There are no “Poohsticks” drifting down the stream, being cheered on from the stuffed spectators, shouting from the sidelines, eager to see which twig will sprint out in the lead first. There will never be anymore small talk or “Sustaining Books” (Milne 328) or skipping along, singing songs and writings “POEMS” (Milne 329). Just a Silly Old Bear will ever exist, pondering things he does not completely comprehend, while gazing over the horizon in an Enchanted Place, without any concept of time and waiting for Christopher Robin to eventually surprise him.

But he will never reappear for Pooh Bear.



Milne returned readers and listeners of young and old to a nostalgic naivety with a sweet, sentimental simplicity – a time without famine and war, devastation, or death. While other period writers, such as Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald, capitalized on the complex and harsh societal distinctions and decadence resulting in the aftermath of the Great War, (Salter 2017), Milne used pleasing lyrical stories, sprinkled with sophisticated humor and delightful fantasies, to relieve the reader’s never-ending nightmares and nervousness. These tales brought an escape and deterrence from reality, governmental constraints, pressures from outside forces, and relief from even the most trivial matters, such as Kings and Queens and how to make a Suction Pump. (Milne 337-338). By telling of Winnie-the-Pooh’s grand adventures, as well as challenges along the way and within each character’s reflections, Milne established welfare, security, and comfort in a tranquil and controlled environment – one that was quieter, and not quite as chaotic as the rest of society.

Winnie-the-Pooh’s “loosening of the restrictions of childhood,” (Egoff 240) revealed to the world and taught all who dare to dream that doing Nothing with your closest Somebody was Everything. (Milne 336-337). Moreover, there is an everlasting and lingering poignancy which tenderly pulls at one’s heartstrings, simultaneously overwhelming, as Paul Wake clarifies, “both the child within the text and the implied reader.” The world wistfully witnesses one “Silly Old Bear,” who still sits patiently pondering and eagerly waiting for his best friend’s long-awaited and highly anticipated homecoming, in which Christopher Robin will regrettably never return. Somehow, though, the rest of the world is still clinging to the hope and promise suspended in time that, “it isn’t really Good-bye, because the Forest will always be there…and anybody who is Friendly with Bears can find it.” (Milne Contradiction).

Someone, go find Pooh Bear. He is waiting.

Works Cited

AA Milne A Signals Officer during WW1 From the Somme to Hundred Acre Wood. Site Developed by Sandra Hutchinson, Royal Signals Museum, www.royalsignalsmuseum.co.uk/a-a-milne/.

Anderson, Douglas A. (Douglas Allen). “Obituary: Humphrey Carpenter (1946-2005).” Tolkien Studies, vol. 2, 2005, pp. 217-224. Project MUSE, doi:10.1353/tks.2005.0004.

Canham, Stephen. “Reassuring Readers: Winnie-the-Pooh” Children’s Literature Association Quarterly, vol. 5 no. 3, 1980, pp. 1-27. Project MUSE, doi:10.1353/chq.0.1462.

Connolly, Paula T. “Characters, Friends, and Toys.” Children’s Literature Review, edited by Tom Burns, vol. 108, Gale, 2005. Gale Literature Resource Center, link.gale.com/apps/doc/H1420066582/LitRC?u=nhmccd_main&sid=LitRC&xid=670b501b. Accessed 1 May 2021. Originally published in “Winnie-the-Pooh” and “The House at Pooh Corner”: Recovering Arcadia, Twayne Publishers, 1995, pp. 71-95.

Connolly, Paula T. “The Marketing of Romantic Childhood: Milne, Disney, and a Very Popular Stuffed Bear.” Children’s Literature Review, edited by Tom Burns, vol. 143, Gale, 2009. Gale Literature Resource Center. link.gale.com/apps/doc/H1420091208/LitRC?u=nhmccd_main&sid=LitRC&xid=686d3131. Accessed 1 May 2021. Originally published in Literature and the Child: Romantic Continuations, Postmodern Contestations, edited by James Holt McGavran, University of Iowa Press, 1999, pp. 188-207.

Crews, Frederick C. The Pooh Perplex: A Student Casebook: In Which It is Discovered That the True Meaning of the Pooh Stories Is Not as Simple as Is Usually Believed. London: Arthur Barker, 1964.

Egoff, Sheila. “‘Which One’s the Mockingbird?” Children’s Literature from the 1920s to the Present.” Theory Into Practice, vol. 21, no. 4, 1982, pp. 239–246. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/1476345. Accessed 1 May 2021.

Karbiener, Karen, and George Stade. “Milne, A. A.” Encyclopedia of British Writers, 1800 to the Present, Third Edition, Facts On File, 2013. Bloom’s Literature, www.online.infobase.com/Auth/Index?aid=99152&itemid=WE54&articleId=31776 . Accessed 1 May 2021.

Milne, A. A., and Ernest H. Shepard. “The House at Pooh Corner.” The Complete Tales of Winnie-the-Pooh. Dutton Children’s Books, New York, NY, 2016. Print.

Milne, A. A., and Ernest H. Shepard. “Winnie-the-Pooh.” The Complete Tales of Winnie-the-Pooh. Dutton Children’s Books, New York, NY, 2016. Print.

O’Connor, Kate. “Lost Generation.” Great Writers Inspire, University of Oxford,  www.writersinspire.org/content/lost-generation .

Salter, Jessica. How a Fluffy Bear Helped the Nation Recover from War. 28 Sept. 2017,    www.telegraph.co.uk/films/goodbye-christopher-robin/country-finding-its-feet/.

Tremper, Ellen. “Instigorating Winnie the Pooh.” The Lion and the Unicorn, vol. 1 no. 1, 1977, pp. 33-46. Project MUSE, doi:10.1353/uni.0.0210.

Wake, Paul. “Waiting in the Hundred Acre Wood: Childhood, Narrative and Time in A. A. Milne’s Works for Children.” Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism, edited by Lawrence J. Trudeau, vol. 246, Gale, 2011. Gale Literature Resource Center, link.gale.com/apps/doc/H1420103572/LitRC?u=nhmccd_main&sid=LitRC&xid=a2724f6. Accessed 1 May 2021. Originally published in Lion and the Unicorn, vol. 33, no. 1, Jan. 2009, pp. 26-43.

Posted in Visual Communication 2021 | Leave a comment

Marcelo Guzman


This paper will analyze the depiction of musical instruments in Ancient Greek art and its impact on culture. First, an analysis was done on several literature sources describing the implications of art and culture in Ancient Greece, the history behind these instruments, mythological origin stories of several instruments, and discussions on several art pieces depicting these instruments. The correlation between music and art from Ancient Greece is established by analyzing three popular instruments during the period, and how the research from the literature sources explicate the overall perception and influence of these instruments. When finding the correlation between music and art, there will be a lot of historical analysis on the mythological creation stories of the instruments. The analysis will conclude with the overall impact that musical depiction in art has had on Ancient Greek culture and the culture in the modern era. The research indicates that these art pieces truly affected the perception of musical instruments in Ancient Greece, which created a cultural impact on the understanding of musical influence from art pieces. The influence of musical art depictions transcends to the modern era. Additionally, some instrumental interpretations have not changed from ancient times. Finally, the research does indicate that no instrument has been depicted in a negative aspect, as illustrated by the origin stories and histories behind several instruments. Further research is needed to explain the lack of correlation between the mythology and depiction in art of the instruments that were analyzed.

Representation of Musical Instruments in Ancient Greek Art


Musical instruments in Ancient Greece have been depicted in a multitude of ways in art forms. The impact and significance of these depictions have influenced the perception of instruments from a cultural perspective that would influence future perceptions of these instruments in proceeding civilizations all the way to the modern era. The analysis of the paper will first begin with the correlation between music and art from Ancient Greece, and how this correlation began. When analyzing the correlation between music and art there is an emphasis on the mythological creation stories of the instruments being analyzed. The analysis will then be followed by individual analysis of some representation of the most popular instruments in Ancient Greek art and how it relates back to the culture. This encompasses three of the most popular instruments during this time, which include the lyre, aulos, and the harp. Through their creation stories, these instruments will be studied in their depiction through various art forms, which leads to their overall impact on Ancient Greek culture. Furthermore, this paper will analyze the long-lasting impact that art depiction has had on these instruments and the overall portrayal of musical culture in future civilizations. After analyzing the depiction of the lyre, aulos, and the harp in Ancient Greek art, this paper will address the cultural impact that these art pieces had on Ancient Greek musical culture, but the long-lasting impact of these depictions throughout musical cultures that proceed Ancient Greece.

Literature Review

Theodor E. Ulieriu-Rostás’ article, “Music and Socio-Cultural Identity in Attic Vase Painting: Prolegomena to Future Research (Pt 1),” depicts a traditional understanding of the formation of some art pieces, which depict musical instruments. In one aspect of the article, he theorizes that these art pieces were utilized to establish “musical identities”[1]. Ulieriu-Rostás believes that the establishment of these musical identities may have originated from “verbal enunciations” which helps “integrate and generate new social meaning” for the artistic elements created in Ancient Greece[2]. The idea behind his theory is that artistic value came from the mythological stories passed through generations. The mythological origins of musical instruments are depicted in art, but without the context behind the formation of these instruments, the art pieces would not have the same significance. The connection between music and art through this theory is the concept of mythology and the role that it played on Ancient Greek culture and its influence on artistic creativity. Another theory from Ulieriu-Rostás that connects art and music together would be his idea of marketing and distribution. Ulieriu-Rostás conceptualizes that specific “pottery output might have been produced with a specific external market in mind”[3]. His theory on an outside market is that there could have been an outside influence, the buyers, to want a specific art piece that may contain the depiction of a particular instrument or they could not have been a significant amount of outside influence on the artistic depiction of instruments overall and the artist had the liberty to create what they pleased. Nevertheless, Ulieriu-Rostás believes that the influence of an outside market could have a major correlation as well in the development of musical instrument depictions in art.  

In connection to Ulieriu-Rostás’ article about the sources in connection of art and music, there is also Francesca Cannella’s article depicting the influence of mythology on the depiction of musical iconography. In the article, Cannella explicates how the story of the Argonauts is “one of the best-known subjects in Greek mythology”[4]. Additionally, Cannella’s article continues to explain how the characters in the myth utilize their unique skills to contribute to the mission that the protagonist was sent out to do. Cannella describes the contribution of music into the uniqueness of the characters by illustrating that “music belongs to these characters” which contribute to the overall success of the mission[5]. The mythology of the Argonauts, According to Cannella, continues to influence the musical iconography of these characters from the “classical times” all the way through “the modern period”[6]

Furthermore, Ellen Van Keer’s article regarding the interpretation of mythology and its influence on Ancient Greek civilization further elucidates the connection between music and art and its contribution to the interpretation of musical instruments. Van Keer depicts multiple myths regarding several instruments to illustrate the varying mythologies associated with musical instruments and how these myths continue to affect societal perceptions, which also influences the depiction of these instruments in art forms. Van Keer explicates that “all myths are polysemic” and that its understanding can allude to multiple meanings about what the story implicates about these instruments[7]. She also speaks on the idea that mythology can be interpreted as “historical reality” based on a number of circumstances that are applicable to the myth[8]. On the other hand, she believes that there could be an additional comprehension of the myth under “symbolic”[9] meaning, which is based on varying circumstances as well. The point that Van Keer emphasizes is the idea that these two different perceptions of mythology do not have to be “mutually exclusive but complementary.”[10]



History of the Lyre  

The lyre is one of the most recognized pieces in Ancient Greek iconography, due to its association with the ancient mythology. It has a “U” shaped body, which sets it apart from a lot of instruments. It is constantly being compared to the harp, as it has a similar function and has some resemblance. One mythological story that arises for the significance of the lyre was found in Francesca Cannella’s article. In Cannella’s article, she explains how the lyre was strongly associated with king Theseus. According to Cannella, Theseus “was an expert in all arts and he was said to have learnt the lyre among other things”[11]. According to Cannella the understanding of how the lyre came to be associated with Theseus is not completely understood, due to some conflicting origin stories that depict an alternate association between other mythological characters and the instrument itself. However, it is understood that the origin of the lyre did come from the constellation of Lyra. According to Greek mythology, the lyre was created by “Hermes, who gave it to his half-brother Apollo, and again passed it over to Orpheus”[12]. The depiction of the lyre and Theseus is extremely special due to the depiction of Theseus and the lyre in many pieces of iconography. In another mythological story, Heracles, who is depicted as a “hero […] for his athletic spirit,” is depicted as a “musician- a performer on the kithara […], lyre or pipes” in many pieces[13]. The idea is that musicianship truly does play a pivotal role in Grecian culture. Specifically, stringed instruments are usually the muse for the artist to create their pieces. The analysis behind this association might be because of the mythologies regarding stringed instruments and the biased that these stories formulate to support stringed instruments over other instrument families.  

Depiction of Lyre in Art  

There are some depictions of the Lyre in several art pieces. One, in particular, is the Francois Vase (Figure 1). In the vase, the upper register is the depiction of Theseus saving the seven male youths and seven female youths from the minotaur in the labyrinth. The fourteen youths can be seen following Theseus as he plays the lyre and guides them to safety. This is an important aspect of understanding the role that not only do the characters play in Greek mythology but also their association to a musical instrument and the role that it plays in the mythology as well. In this piece, there is an association of joy and life due to Theseus playing music after saving the 14 youths from death. This can be understood as the association between celebration and happiness to not only Theseus but with the instrument as well. In the piece, the youths are holding hands with one another as they celebrate their escape. This is important to understand due to Theseus leading the line as he plays the lyre, the role that lyre plays in this scenario is that it is a beacon of joy. This is because the youths are not just following Theseus, but they are following the sound of music as they enjoy their newfound freedom. Another depiction of the lyre would be in kylix called Apollo with Lyre (Figure 2). In this depiction, there is a clear association between the god Apollo and the musical instrument highlighted to represent him. This association supports the analysis of Francesca Cannella, where the mythological story of the instrument’s creation is strongly associated with divine power. Due to the strong ties between music and a set of higher beings, it is evident that mythological stories truly due have an impact on the perception of the world for civilians at the time. This alignment between a higher power and its ability to create tools for mankind shows how humans worship by creating pieces of art like the vase and the kylix to revere the gods. 

Cultural Impact of the Lyre

The cultural impact that is observed from the depiction of the lyre is that it is one of the most admired instruments of Ancient Greece. As stated by Maas and Snyder in their article, there’s a clear understanding that a variety of instruments, some very similar to others, have been found in other cultures and regions around the world. An example that the authors explained in the article would be the “prevalent buzzing quality of East African lyres”[14]. This has significant value because of the similarities of the instruments in different regions and cultures, most of the instruments discussed have the same purpose, although the qualities of these instruments may vary. Each culture has its uniqueness when it comes to the formation of these instruments. This includes the creation stories associated with them, and this is seen through the depiction of these instruments in art. It is important to recognize how the impact of instruments not only influences the art within these respected civilizations but also how they influence societal culture and the utilization of said instruments. Furthermore, the influence of the lyre has transcended through time, many popular stringed instruments have an association, whether through the shape or design of the instrument, to the original stringed instrument in Ancient Greece.


History of the Aulos

The aulos is one of the most controversial instruments in Ancient Greece due to its history and association with particular mythological characters, and the process of utilizing the instrument itself had its own controversy. The history of the Aulos expands through multiple mythological stories. It is still unclear which origin story regarding the Aulos is the most widely accepted. However, according to Isler-Kerényi and Watson, their article explains some of the mythology and association between different instruments. According to the authors, Apollo is considered to be a “strong young god” that “expresses perfect beauty”[15]. On the other hand, Dionysos is a “castrated youth of oriental inspiration,” which makes him “lower in Greek beauty”[16]. Therefore, the association of the lyre/kithara and aulos between these individuals occurs due to their social status and their depiction by society. The association of these instruments to their respected Greek counterparts brings a new set of expectations on these instruments as well. In response to this, Ancient Greek societies were willing to praise these string instruments over the wind instrument due to its association with the creation story.

Depiction of Aulos in Art

In one piece, the depiction of the aulos is seen as a beautiful instrument rather than this horrendous device that the creation stories have emphasized about it. One of the pieces that depict the instrument in such a light would be the Tomb of the Diver at Paestum (Figure 3). By looking at the image there are several instruments being played at the gathering. The bottom half of the image, towards the right, displays the aulos being played, while another individual is awe by the music. This can be depicted by the hand gesture placed on the second individual next to the aulos player. This is very contradictory to what was expressed during the mythological analysis of the aulos creation story. The stigma placed on this instrument has evolved so much that it was included in this piece as a beautiful sounding instrument that is worthy of representation like the sibling instruments of the lyre and kithara. The Statuette of a female aulos-player (Figure 4) pays homage to the creation story associated with the goddess Athena. Female aulos players were recognized in art pieces to worship Athena’s role in musical mythology. Athena’s role in the creation of musical iconography also represents gender diversity in art. The understanding that a plethora of myths and stories revolve around leading men, this mythology includes Athena as a leading role in the creation story of an instrument. This opens an understanding that women can also have incredible importance in music and art. This piece, in particular, embodies the female beauty as the sound coming from the instrument is being played by the female player. The piece embodies the aspect of Athena’s beauty and her contribution to musical iconography. An aspect that seems contradictory is the understanding that in the mythology Athena ends up despising the instrument because, ironically, it ruins her beauty. However, in many pieces of art, the female aulos player is still depicted as a beautiful individual that plays entrancing music. This is strange because the mythology did not influence artistic perception when creating these art pieces. This piece indicates that art and mythology can be separated and valued for the authentic role that the instrument has.  

Cultural Impact of the Aulos

            There has been a tremendous cultural impact on Ancient Greek culture, and on future civilizations from the creation of these instrumental pieces. This is evident in Giulia Corrente’s article on the depiction of instruments in Ancient Greek culture. Corrente explicates that “many auloi and other musical instruments as well as clay statuettes of female performers, have been discovered in sacred areas of the colonies”[17]. The article highlights how some artistic artifacts have been discovered and how some have depictions of the aulos. This is extremely surprising due to the number of origin stories that center around the idea that string instruments were the superior instruments than wind instruments. A common association is the lyre and aulos, the mythology surrounding these instruments emphasize the idea that the lyre is the superior instrument than the aulos. Another cultural impact that is associated with the aulos is the idea centered around the Marsyas myth. The concept that’s associated with the myth is the topic of music theory and why this myth expanded in the way that it did. Based on the analysis of the myth, the sound coming from the aulos was not a pleasant sound because of the ideology of playing music in varying modes. One mode in particular that could help understand why the sound was not pleasant might have been due to the player playing the aulos in the Phrygian mode. The Phrygian mode has been known for its uniqueness, however, it’s sound could have not been entirely pleasant due to the different intervals in the scale for that key signature. Since Phrygian mode strays away from the wholesome and better-known Ionian mode, it could have been perceived as out of tune or dissonant to the human ear. However, the actual mode itself resembles a lot of the major and minor sounding scales/modes. This indicates that the Phrygian mode shares commonalities between major and minor, giving it the unique sound that makes this mode famous. This implication and association between the mythology and the instrument could have led to the understanding as to the formation of some of the most recognizable modes in music theory, it could have extended from the mythology as well. This truly indicates how the perception of mythology can affect the perception of ideas and music to be represented in art in a specific way, but it also could influence the way future civilizations perceive similar ideas, so much so that they may follow the same path and come to conclusions based on these preconceived notions. This is evident with the naming of the varying modes in music theory, probably expanding from the mythological origins of musical instruments or due to another aspect of Ancient Greek culture.


History of the Harp

The history of the harp is more complicated than the other instruments due to the lack of mythological origin stories that are associated with many of the other instruments. However, according to Martin Van Schaik, the harp is “one of the oldest instruments in Europe” based on “archaeological findings, a prototype of this stringed instruments was already known about 4500 years ago” in the Cyclades islands[18]. Nothing much is known about the origins of the instrument, other than that these small statuettes have been carved representing harps from early civilizations. It is not a unique instrument to Ancient Greece, but it does have significant cultural value due to its role in cultural aspects. The harp had a specific purpose in Ancient Greece, particularly during ceremonies, funerals, celebrations, and other forms of gatherings. The music was used as entertainment or for establishing the tone of the event. Many questions still arise as to the particular purpose behind the harp in the Cyclades islands, and why this instrument was so popular during this time period. More research is needed to help understand the purpose and popularity of the harp to definitively establish a theory.

Depiction of Harp in Art

The Harp has been depicted in numerous ways, one particular that stands out would have to be Seated harp player from Keros (Figure 5). This depiction of the instrument entails a more serene nature to them. According to Van Schaik, these statuettes were placed in tombs as cemetery pieces that had specific roles in their culture[19]. A lot of these statuettes had significant roles in the religious aspect of the death of an individual. However, specifically, it is not known if they had a more serious role regarding the afterlife of the deceased or if they were merely used for decorations, more research is needed to formulate a theory about these statuettes. An additional aspect of the statuette that depicts the serene nature of the piece would the posture of the instrument player while holding the harp. The player has a relaxed posture while holding the harp, the legs are open, the elbows are more relaxed, and the instrument is between the legs. This posture entails a more relaxed form of playing, rather than a professional setting where the posture of the player is more formal and serious. This depiction of the harp helps understand one of the possible roles that the harp could have had in the Cycladic islands, there is the understanding that the harp was used for celebratory occasions. Based on the posture of the player and the harp itself, it is clear that the creation of the statuette might have been centered around an informal, celebratory occasion. The next piece that illustrates the harp would be the Seated harp player from unknown province (Figure 6). In this statuette, the harp and the player are depicted in a more serious manner. This is concluded from the posture of the harp player and the position of the harp as it is being played. The posture of the player is more formal, and this is in part due to the erect posture of the player as they are sitting down on the chair. Additionally, the harp is placed on the side of the player rather than in between the legs, making it more formal and serious. For this occasion, the artist may have wanted to perceive the player in a more musically serious environment rather than a relaxed setting as the previous piece. These contrasts between the instrumental setting truly enlighten the idea that the harp is a multipurpose instrument that serves on many occasions.

Cultural Impact of the Harp

The cultural impact that the harp has had would be that some of the similar reasons that the harp has been used in ancient civilizations are still in practice today. Today more than anything, harps are seen as musical instruments primarily for entertainment. There is no additional understanding/role that could have been associated. Much of the same interpretations regarding the instrument remain, which is impressive due to the gap between the modern age and Ancient Greece. The little deviation between the purpose of the instrument and the role that it plays in civilization indicates the value and significance of the harp. The understanding of the role that the harp has had in ancient times comes from the depiction of the instrument in artistic pieces. Additionally, the interpretation of the music played by the instrument is extremely similar to the interpretation in ancient times. The music from the harp has been described as “dreamlike” and the music played by the harp is associated as beautiful. Much of the musical understanding has not changed between Ancient Greece and the modern era. Much of the same understanding of the harp managed to prevail through the times and continues to shape the current understanding of the instrument. This is the only instrument that managed to carry the same perception and role from ancient times to the modern era. Many instruments managed to carry similar perceptions, but with alterations to the understanding of the roles and significance attached to them.


After analyzing the various aspects behind the three most popular instruments in Ancient Greece, the research indicates that the representation of instruments in art does have a significant cultural impact on the perception and ideology of the instrument, to a certain extent. This exception comes from the mythology surrounding the aulos, and different perspectives that were used to depict the instrument in art pieces. The mythology illustrated the aulos as a horrendous instrument capable of destroying beauty, while the antithesis of this ideology was perceived through various art pieces that utilized the aulos as the main focus. In another understanding, the mythology surrounding the aulos has managed to influence the origins of the Phrygian mode in music theory, which is currently used in today’s musical culture. Additionally, the research further implicates that art can have a significant influence on modern culture through past perceptions and their direct influence on modern perceptions.  This can be observed with the current understanding of the harp and the function that the instrument serves on several occasions. This same perception may have existed during ancient times and has managed to be consistent through time. Finally, ancient art pieces have depicted all of the instruments from a positive perspective, contrary to some negative perspectives in the mythologies for some instruments. This analysis indicates that during ancient times, mythologies played a significant role in the ideology formation of civilians, but artists were able to diverge different perspectives and experiences to create art that illustrates the uniqueness and beauty found in every instrument. Further research is needed to continue to formulate further analysis of the history behind several instruments and have a strong foundation to formulate a theory as to the specific roles that each instrument serves during Ancient Greece and how it influences artistic depictions.


Figure 1: Francois Vase, Archaic, ca. 570-560 BCE
https://gantzmythsources.libs.uga.edu/chapter-8-minos-and-crete/section-4-theseus-and the-minotaur/p-267/
Figure 2: Apollo with Lyre, Archaic, ca. 480-470 BCE
URL: https://www.ancient.eu/image/986/apollo-with-lyre/
Figure 3: Tomb of the Diver at Paestum, High Classical, ca. 470 BCE
Figure 4: Statuette of a female aulos-player, High Classical, ca. 450 BCE.
Figure 5: Seated harp player from Keros, Athens, National Archaeological Museum, inv.no. 3908 (Early Cycladic II, ca. 2600-2500 BCE).
Figure 6: Seated harp player from unknown province, Early Cycladic I, ca. 2800 BCE

Works Cited

Cannella, Francesca. “The Heroes of the Fabulous History and the Inventions Ennobled by Them”: The Myth of the Argonauts between Visual Sources and Literary Invention. “Music in Art” 40, no. 1-2 (2015): 191-202. https://www.jstor.org/stable/musicinart.40.1-2.191.

Corrente, Giulia. “Mousikē and Mimēsis: Some Aspects of Western Greek Musical Culture.” In The Many Faces of Mimesis: Selected Essays from the 2017 Symposium on the Hellenic Heritage of Western Greece, edited by Reid Heather L. and DeLong Jeremy C., 247-60. Sioux City, Iowa: Parnassos Press – Fonte Aretusa, 2018. doi:10.2307/j.ctvbj7g5b.22.

Isler-Kerényi, Cornelia, and Wilfred G.E. Watson. “MODERN MYTHOLOGIES: “DIONYSOS” VERSUS “APOLLO”.” In Dionysos in Archaic Greece: An Understanding through Images, 235-54. LEIDEN; BOSTON: Brill, 2007. http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1163/j.ctt1w76w9x.13.

Maas, Martha, and Jane MacIntosh. Snyder. Stringed Instruments of Ancient Greece. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989.

Theodor E. Ulieriu-Rostás. “Music and Socio-Cultural Identity in Attic Vase Painting: Prolegomena to Future Research (Pt 1).”Music in Art 38, no. 1-2 (2013): 9-26. https://www.jstor.org/stable/musicinart.38.1-2.9.

Van Keer, Ellen. “The Myth of Marsyas in Ancient Greek Art: Musical and Mythological Iconography.” Music in Art 29, no. 1/2 (2004): 20-37. http://www.jstor.org/stable/41818749.

Van Schaik, Martin. “Ancient Marble Harp Figurines: The Search for a Stratified Context.” Music in Art 23, no. 1/2 (1998): 11-18. http://www.jstor.org/stable/41561899. Voutira, Alexandra Goulaki. “Heracles and Music.” RIdIM/RCMI Newsletter 17, no. 1 (1992): 2-14. http://www.jstor.org/stable/41604958.

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