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,

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.

“Consumer Benefits.” Consumer Benefits,

Geyer, Roland et al., “Production, use, and fate of all plastics ever made.” Science Magazine, vol.3, no. 7. 19 July 2017. “”.

Gourmelon, Gaelle. “Global plastic production rises, recycling lags.” New Worldwatch Institute analysis explores trends in global plastic consumption and recycling., www. 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,

“The Purpose of Single-Use Plastics.” This Is Plastics, 9 Jan. 2020,

Ritchie, Hannah and Roser, Max (2020) – “Plastic Pollution.” Published online at Retrieved from: ‘’

Sharma, Kumar. “Ban on Single-Use Plastic: What Products, Industries Will Be Hit?” Business Today, 15 Sept. 2019,

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“World Plastic or Rubber Exports By Country.” World,

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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.

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.

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.

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. 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, 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, 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, Accessed 28 Apr. 2021.

Johnson, Ellwood. “Individualism and the Puritan Imagination.” American Quarterly, vol. 22, no. 2, 1970, pp. 230–237. JSTOR, 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, 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, Accessed 6 Apr. 2021.

“Noam Chomsky on American Exceptionalism.” YouTube, uploaded by Chomsky’s Philosophy, 26 June 2020.

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, 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, 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,

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, 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. 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, 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, . 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, .

Salter, Jessica. How a Fluffy Bear Helped the Nation Recover from War. 28 Sept. 2017,

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, 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 the-minotaur/p-267/
Figure 2: Apollo with Lyre, Archaic, ca. 480-470 BCE
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, 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.

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.

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.

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.

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

Posted in Visual Communication 2021 | Leave a comment

Travis Lemm


This research project explores the influence different cultures can have on each other, and how this influence affects their art by looking at different types of relief from two ancient cultures: Assyrian relief panels, and Greek stelai. To research this topic, an annotated bibliography was conducted in which specific pieces from each style and culture were discussed, as well as the histories behind some pieces, and the cultural and technological aspects surrounding them. This process revealed that while each group’s individual culture was present in each artwork, there were similarities in style and purpose, and many differences could be explained by a difference in technology.

A Comparison of Ancient Assyrian and Greek Stone Carvings

The interaction of cultures is like the mixing of paint. The more two groups of people exchange aspects of themselves, the more those aspects are shared between them. This is true today and also in antiquity. The empires of Mesopotamia and the Mediterranean interacted for thousands of years, through conflict and through trade, exchanging many cultural aspects from warfare, to religion, to art.

This paper will focus on the artwork produced by the ancient Assyrians and ancient Greeks, the cultural values that are expressed in those artworks, and the similarities and differences between them. The analysis for the Assyrians will focus on their carved stone portraits called reliefs, particularly two on the Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser III. These artworks portrayed many aspects of Assyrian life, from religious ritual to the decimation of enemy cities. Much of Assyrian culture is displayed in these pieces. The analysis for the Greeks will focus on their stelai, specifically the stele of Dexileos. Much like Assyria’s reliefs, Greece’s stelai show much about its culture, from warfare, to religion, and everything in between. After analyzing the two cultures separately, a comparative analysis between the two will be conducted, examining where they intersect and where they differ. Subjects such as religion, foreign policy, views on war, subject, composition, and style will be examined. Since the Assyrian Empire existed before the era in Greek history that is being analyzed, influence from Assyria onto Greek culture will also be explored. The stone carvings of both the ancient Assyrians and ancient Greeks share similar stylistic qualities, as well as expressing similar cultural aspects.

Cultures, History, and Pieces


 The Assyrian Empire was well known for its brutality. Its military often perpetrated atrocities that are unimaginable to us today. These horrific actions served a purpose, however. They demonstrated to a war-torn area that the power of the Assyrians could not be challenged without risking the utter annihilation of oneself and one’s people. Simply committing these atrocities was not enough to keep and hold the empire, however. Newly conquered subjects needed to be reminded of their defeat and subjugation, and potential enemies needed to be shown the might of Assyria. Propaganda served this need. Countless artworks were created in many styles to celebrate Assyria, and to intimidate enemies and dissenters; one such style of artworks was their reliefs.

Assyria’s reliefs are some of the most common forms of their artwork found. Their style is very unique, and they carry with them political and religious significance. Beginning with their style, the poses of the human and animal figures are very rigid, as shown in Figure 1. Their bodies look very stiff and most compositions are not very dynamic or flowing because of it. The scenes look very static, as if frozen in time. Making the figures in the pieces so rigid, as well as the equal spacing between figures that commonly occurs, gives many of these pieces a strong sense of rhythm and movement of a different kind. The eye bounces around the piece, which is often depicting a story, and gives life and movement to the characters of the story, as seen in Figure 2. These works however, also often lack a sense of depth. Most figures seem to be on the same plane, the only thing hinting at anything different is occasional overlapping. Similarly, the Assyrian style is lacking realistic detail. Most figures have an unrepresentative look to them. The viewer can make out what it is, but it is an abstracted, near caricatured, version of what it is portraying. An aspect of these pieces that has been lost however is the paint that once covered them. These pieces, as well as many other types of artworks that the Assyrians created, were brightly painted in their entirety. While it is not widely known exactly what colors the Assyrians used and why, what is known is that blue was used frequently, most likely because resources that could be used to make the color were scarce in the area. Having it line palaces and other government buildings demonstrated Assyria’s wealth and power.

Though the style of Assyrian reliefs was consistent, their subject matter varied greatly depending on what the emperor wished the piece to project. Most common among subjects chosen for reliefs were military victories and battle scenes, depictions of aspects of their religion, and scenes aggrandizing the ruler. As discussed earlier, military victories were chosen to display the empire’s military might to enemies, as well as to conquered subjects thinking of fighting for their freedom. Religious depictions are also popular subjects in Assyrian reliefs. Many works were created depicting ceremonies and their gods themselves, as shown in Figure 3. Similar to why they chose to demonstrate military power through their art, the Assyrians wished to promote a stabilizing unity throughout their empire, and sought to do this through promoting a single religion. By filling their cities and government buildings with art showing their religion, they hoped to promote obedience to the empire. Another common subject of reliefs is the aggrandizement of the current ruler. Again, this was meant to strengthen the hold the Assyrian imperial government had on its people. By showing the opulence and luxury the ruler lived in, as well as the power they held entirely on their own, they demonstrated to their people how superior to they were, and how inferior and powerless the average person was. Such a showing can be seen in Figure 4. Few single works of art from Assyria capture all of the aspects of their society that have so far been discussed, except for the Black Obelisk.

The Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser III is a tower discovered in the ancient city of Nimrud, in modern day northern Iraq. The tower is decorated with a series of reliefs with descriptions celebrating the accomplishments of king Shalmaneser III, and descriptions of the scenes. The Obelisk is covered with many interesting pieces, but chief among these are the reliefs depicting Sua of Gilzanu before the king (Figure 5) and Jehu of Israel before the king (Figure 6). In his piece, Sua, the ruler of the land of Gilzanu, located in modern day Azerbaijan, is seen kneeling before the king in submission. This is to be expected, as Gilzanu had been under Assyrian control for decades at this point in their history. What separates this piece from that of the one depicting Jehu, as both rulers are kneeling in both pieces, is that the king is dressed for war. He is holding a bow and arrows and is accompanied by two soldiers and two officers. This is confusing as there are no records of Assyria being at war with Gilzanu at this time. What is more confusing is why the piece depicting Jehu is different. Jehu’s piece similarly shows him kneeling before the king, but the king is dressed more for a ceremony at court. He is wearing the ceremonial fringed mantel and is accompanied by a servant holding a sunshade and a second dignitary. What these differences are thought to possibly represent is how each country was brought into the empire. Gilzanu was brought into the empire through conquest after they lost a battle, while Israel approached the king and surrendered without military action. The goal of this possible representation was to show the two paths a people soon to be conquered could take: military action and defeat, or acceptance of their fate without bloodshed. Another interesting aspect of these pieces is that they are located one on top of the other on the Obelisk, yet they are geographically very distant from each other and were conquered at very different times in the empire’s history. What could be meant by doing this was the king displaying the vastness of his empire, and therefore the vastness of his own power, by showing the viewer two of the most distant lands incorporated into it, and their rulers both kneeling before him.5

Also on display in these pieces is Assyrian religion. Presiding over both rulers paying tribute to the king are the god Shamash and the goddess Ishtar. Shamash, the god of the sun and justice, is portrayed in his common depiction as winged disk, while Ishtar, goddess of love and war, is shown in her common depiction as a star. The inclusion of both of these gods in both of these pieces would seem to indicate their importance to the Assyrians. By having them watch over this interaction between rulers, it would seem Assyria has been given the divine right to rule over these areas.

This grants more power to the Assyrian king, while also promoting their religion, as people are more likely to convert to a religion that seems to grant them the gods’ favor.

Assyria and its reliefs hold interesting places in history. They demonstrate one of the first sophisticated uses of propaganda in human history. Their promotion of the ultimate authority of the ruler, their celebration of militarism, and their perpetuation of their culture through the display of their religion would all become staples of propaganda use throughout the rest of time.

Their style and use of stone carving would be equally influential, as it swept across their empire and into areas that they traded with as well, including the Mediterranean.


 Greece has gone through many wars throughout its history; some with foreign powers, many amongst itself. One such war between Greeks was the Corinthian War, a war fought between Spartans and their allies, and Athenians and their allies. During the second campaigning season of this war, the biggest battle between Greeks took place; the battle of Nemea River. With 20,000 hoplites fighting on each side, the battle took 3,900 Greek lives, resulting in an eventual Spartan victory. After the battle, a mass grave was dug for the fallen soldiers on the side of the Athenians. This graveyard was filled with monuments to the fallen soldiers, many of them being stelai.6

Stelai are stone carvings usually created as funerary markers that depict some aspect of a person’s, or group of persons’, lives. If a person had a specific occupation for which they were well known, such as an athlete or a soldier (Figure 7), their stele would show them doing what they did in life. Familial stelai were also common (Figure 8), marking the area in which a family has been buried together.7 The style of Greek stelai is very naturalistic. The poses in which the figures are usually carved, look very relaxed and realistic. The figures themselves are very representational, usually having proper proportions and lifelike details. Most pieces also have a strong sense of depth and volume. The figures do more than overlap. The viewer can tell there is meant to be space between them. Figures are also carved in such a way that they have a presence in the piece; they look very voluminous, as though there is more to them than just what is shown. An excellent example of all of these traits is the stele of Dexileos.

The stele of Dexileos is a stele marking the tomb of a young horseman who died in the battle of Nemea River, fighting for the side of the Athenians. He was one of an elite group of horsemen who most likely all perished in the battle. Their conduct was so extraordinary that they were all buried together, in state, and given their own monument to remember them by.

These accolades were not enough for Dexileos’ parents, who felt their son needed something more to mark his honor and bravery, and who were wealthy enough to commission something grander. His parents commissioned his own stelai, and had it placed above all the rest (Figure 9).8 Dexileos’ stele, like most stelai, focuses heavily on him, the person the stele was made for. It is a marker of individuality after death; a brief look into a single person’s life as they were when they were alive. Idolizing individuality in such a way is indicative of the larger culture surrounding these artworks. Athens during this time had switched over to a direct democratic form of government, the first in human history. Their belief in the individual as a significant participant in society was reflected in their art and was seen more clearly than in their stelai. Another aspect of Greek society present in the Dexileos Stele is their celebration of the hero. In his stele, Dexileos is depicted during the battle of Nemea River, rearing up on his horse, preparing to vanquish an enemy soldier. The scene is very dynamic. The eye follows up the horse, to Dexileos’ face, and down to the enemy soldier on the ground, as if the viewer is thrusting the spear through him with their eyes. With merely the flow of the scene, the viewer feels they are sharing a victory with Dexileos, and that he is a hero worth being venerated. This was also characteristic of the culture that produced these works of art. Greece, especially Athens, is famous for the plays and epic poems it produced during this time period, most of which follow a hero facing adversity for what they believe is right and sometimes not making it back alive. This reverence for individuals going out, facing the odds, and fighting for what they want and believe in can be seen throughout their society, especially in their art such as stelai.9

Greece’s stelai are an interesting cross section of their culture. So much of their society can be seen in these artworks and the stories behind them. Their preference for the realistic, their reverence for the individual, their hero-worship, are all present in these pieces. They are great examples of what Greek artistic culture produced in this period.


Both styles of stone carving, Assyrian panel relief and Greek stele, are excellent views into the cultures that they were produced from. Comparing the two, their styles will be examined, looking at how they portray figures, their style of poses, their use of depth, as well as their use of paint. Subject matter will also be explored, focusing on their views of the state and the individual, their portrayals of war, as well as religious aspects. Finally, the purpose of these artworks will be discussed, looking at how they were used, and by whom.

To begin, their styles vary wildly. The Assyrian style is very abstracted, where the Greek is very realistic, even idealistic at times. Figures in Assyrian reliefs look very stiff and near cartoonish. Some pieces have more realistic details, but none are quite like the exceptionally realistic Greek style. Figures in Greek stelai look relaxed and dynamic. They have a very naturalistic quality to them that sets them apart from the Assyrians. These dynamic poses give the stelai a flowing movement in some pieces that is not matched in Assyrian reliefs. The reliefs, however, have a different sort of movement. The stiff poses of their figures and regular placement in the scene gives many pieces a rhythmic movement that is not seen in Greek stelai.

This effect is also magnified by the fact that most panel reliefs have little sense of depth to them.

The closest most panel reliefs get to showing depth is figures overlapping, whereas stelai excel at showing depth and volume. When looking at most stelai, a viewer can easily tell that there is meant to be space between figures. A possible explanation for this discrepancy in styles is technology. In Mesopotamia, the production of hard stone seals increased gradually over a 3,000 year period, where in Crete, the same levels of production were achieved over a 1,000 year period.10 The technology that was created to achieve these levels of production would also have been used in carving stone artworks. This head start, technologically speaking, gave the Greeks more time to develop techniques using these advanced tools, and therefore develop their more realistic style.

Where these artworks also differ however is in their subject matter. What these pieces depict and the meaning behind them diverge almost as much as their style does. Assyrian reliefs are almost always propagandistic. They were created to praise and demonstrate the power of the state and the ruler. These artworks were meant to intimidate enemies and make loyal and devout citizens, whereas Greek stelai were meant to celebrate an individual. Being funerary markers, the stelai were made to celebrate the achievements and life of whoever’s grave they were meant to mark. They are more centered on the individual than on the state, though often celebrating an individual’s sacrifice for the state, such as one in war. Religiously, the stelai were more personal and individualistic as well. Occasionally they were decorated with symbols or depictions of gods that the commissioners of the stele wished to honor with it. However, Assyrian reliefs were much more communally focused religiously. Their use as propaganda did not stop at their religion. Their inclusion of religious symbols and references in these pieces was meant to validate their conquests by showing their victories as divinely ordained. Early Mesopotamian Cultures, especially Assyro-Babylonian societies, thought of representation through art and writing as taking a more active role in the world than Greek culture did. They saw depicting something through art as creating in the artwork an essence of whatever was being depicted and a substitute in the real world what was depicted.11 So a relief depicting the king conquering an enemy city meant more to the Assyrians than just an image of that happening. It took on a life of its own. It was as impactful as seeing the city fall in person. This is wildly different from Greek ideas about art. For the Greeks, an image was just an image; a mere copy of what one would see, made of stone. One thing the Assyrians and Greeks did share however, was their celebration of war. Most artworks by either culture that portray an act of war portray it as glorious and honorable. While for different reasons, as the Assyrians gave most of the honor to the king, and the Greeks gave most to the soldier, both cultures showed participation in war as a virtuous thing.


 Assyrian and Greek art share much in common and differ on much more. Their styles contrast greatly from each other, and so do their use of their art, specifically their relief panels and stelai. What also distinguishes them from each other are their cultural views on authority, and how this influences their art. What they do share is a common reverence for battle, however, and a general use of stone carving as an art form, both being possible examples of cross-cultural exchange. In the end, examining these two cultures’ artworks serves as an interesting look into how these two groups of people changed each other over the centuries. It gives a better understanding of how cultural exchange works, and how to look at it in other cultures in the future.

Figure 1: Battle with a Camel Rider, 728 BCE,
Figure 2: Attack on an Enemy Town, 730 BCE-727 BCE,
Figure 3: Protective Spirits, 645 BCE-640 BCE,
Figure 4: The Banquet of Ashurbanipal, 645 BCE-635 BCE
Figure 5: Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser III showing the ruler of Gilzanu before the king,
825 BCE,
Figure 6: Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser III showing the ruler of Israel before the king, 825 BCE,
Figure 7: A marble stele depicting two Greek warriors, 4th century BCE,
Figure 8: Marble grave stele with a family group, 360 BCE,
Figure 9: Stele of Dexileos, 394 BCE,

Works Cited

Bahrani, Zainab. The Graven Image: Representation in Babylonia and Assyria. University of Pennsylvania Press, 2003. Accessed February 23, 2021.

Carlin, Dan. Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History: Kings of Kings. Podcast audio. December 2015. CGH8RO_g.

Getty, J Paul. “Assyria: Palace Art of Ancient Iraq.” Getty Museum. Accessed February 23, 2021.

Gorelick, Leonard, and A. John Gwinnett. “Minoan versus Mesopotamian Seals: Comparative Methods of Manufacture.” Iraq 54 (1992): 57-64. Accessed February 23, 2021. doi:10.2307/4200352.

Hurwit, Jeffrey M. “The Problem with Dexileos: Heroic and Other Nudities in Greek Art.” American Journal of Archaeology 111, no. 1 (2007): 35-60. Accessed March 1, 2021.

Porada, E. “Remarks about Some Assyrian Reliefs.” Anatolian Studies 33 (1983): 15-18. Accessed February 23, 2021. doi:10.2307/3642685.

Posted in Visual Communication 2021 | Leave a comment

Elizabeth Cole

While the United States Healthcare System is riddled with problems, there is

not enough focus on prevention. A first line of defense that is underutilized is the Social Work profession. While there isn’t a multitude of studies regarding the effects of social work on general healthcare outcomes, the few that have been done have been overwhelmingly positive. In one case, social workers intervened in high risk pregnancies and lowered the admission rates of NICU patients by 15% over a three-year period. There is an additional study showing that underage at-risk females were educated by a female health educator about the risks of unprotected sex. Through this intervention, the rates of sex without contraceptives dropped by a considerable margin throughout the study. While there needs to be more research in this area, the research that has been done has shown a positive influence on the effects of social work as a preventative measure in the healthcare field.
According to the International Federation of Social Workers, “Social work is a practice-based profession and an academic discipline that promotes social change and development, social cohesion, and the empowerment and liberation of people. Principles of social justice, human rights, collective responsibility and respect for diversities are central to social work. Underpinned by theories of social work, social sciences, humanities and indigenous knowledge, social work engages people and structures to address life challenges and enhance wellbeing” (IFSW, 2014). Social Services in America is typically referred to as “welfare” to the uninformed. These programs include the popular Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), and Medicare and Medicaid. While Medicare and Medicaid are a type of health care program, social service programs are not typically associated with bettering our general health. In all actuality, social service programs have been studied and have shown a positive impact on certain wellness areas such as prenatal health and STD prevention in adolescent females. If we were to invest more in social worker related programs, we could then lower the cost of healthcare in addition to reaping the benefits of being healthier. While there has not been an abundance of studies done, the few that have been completed show promising results for why we should invest more in social programs as a society.

Reduction in Neonatal Intensive Care Admission Rates
Pregnancy is the primary indicator for Medicaid eligibility. Women from poorer backgrounds tend to have higher risk pregnancies than their more well-off counterparts. Therefore, delivery and Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) admissions account for a large portion of the Medicaid budget. The Monroe Plan for Medical Care (MP) serves over 3,000 providers in the Rochester, New York area, which accounts for over 73,000 patients throughout the region. As MP works with BlueCross BlueShield, it is financially responsible for all the Medicaid Managed Care recipients, hence their desire to lower NICU admission rates and reduce the cost of pregnancy and delivery. During the late 1990’s the NICU admission rate was over 100 per 1000 births. In 1997, MP adopted a community case-management program designed to combat NICU admission rates significantly. “The medical literature reports that there are many risk factors that significantly affect birth outcomes for low-income and working-poor women, including medical comorbidities, mental health and substance abuse issues, smoking, previous preterm birth, and social-related problems such as social isolation, spousal abuse, and homelessness” (Hobel et. al., 1994).
Having identified what makes their patients at risk, MP created a community-based case management program designed to combat NICU admission rates in the patients. MP worked with other Medicaid Managed Care providers as well as their Obstetrics/Gynecology Advisory Committee to develop “Healthy Beginnings”, a prenatal care program. The objective of this program was to reduce NICU admission rates by 15% in three years and to maintain that reduction in the following years. Before 1997, general practitioners rarely notified MP about their patients becoming pregnant, at a rate of less than 3%. In late 1997, MP designed a prenatal registration form (PRF) for practitioners to alert them to a patient’s pregnancy and include any high-risk factors that might be involved. “The PRF assess risk categories of social risk factors, maternal medical history, psychoneurological history, maternal obstetrical history and previous infant findings” (Stankaitis, Brill, & Walker, 2005). In order to ensure submission of the PRF, MP reimbursed practitioners $30 for each one submitted. This raised submission rates to 85% in 1998. However, the timeliness of submission was a problem as most general practitioners didn’t submit their PRF’s until the third trimester, thus making it more difficult to implement adequate prenatal care for high risk women. “In April 2001, Healthy Beginnings implemented a tiered payment system for the submission of the PRF in which the program would pay practitioners $50 for submission in the first trimester, $30 in the second trimester, and $20 in the third trimester” (Stankaitis, Brill, & Walker, 2005). Because of the tiered payment schedule, submissions in the first trimester increased to 60%. After submission, a perinatal nurse coordinator reviews the PRF and determines if there is a high-risk situation. According to Stankaitis, Brill, and Walker (2005):
Individuals with medical complications of pregnancy receive complex case management, home care services, or skilled nursing services as required. The perinatal nurse coordinator refers all pregnant enrollees identified as high risk because of psychosocial problems to the BabyLove Program. This community-based program has a strong history of working effectively with high-risk pregnant women, with the added feature of social work supervision that is necessary to effectively provide outreach. The BabyLove Program offers home visits, arranges transportation, provides links to support services and social work services, and connects high-risk pregnant women with other critically needed services (p. 168).
The results of the Healthy Beginnings Program were successful in more ways than anticipated. NICU admission rates from 2001 to 2003 were decreased 8.8%, 8.9%, and 5.7%, respectively. In addition to the decreased NICU admissions, preterm birth (< 32 weeks) and low birth weight (< 1900 g) were also significantly lower. Admission rates for Medicaid recipients in upstate New York remained generally unchanged, and the requirements for NICU admission remained the same during the same time period, thus indicating that the Healthy Beginnings Program had a positive effect on high-risk pregnancies and deliveries in their patients. In addition to the health benefits of the Healthy Beginnings Program, Stankaitis, Brill, & Walker also found that for every dollar spent of the program, $2 was saved (p. 170). These savings have been calculated to save over 1.8 million since the program’s implementation.

The Safer Sex Intervention
The Safer Sex Intervention (SSI) is a clinic-based program model funded by the federal Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program, which is administered by the Office of Adolescent Health, a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. “The Office of Adolescent Health was authorized by the Public Health Service Act, they support research, services, prevention and health promotion activities, training, education, partnership engagement, national planning, and information dissemination activities” (Office of Adolescent Health, n.d.). SSI’s goal is to reduce the rate of sexually-transmitted diseases and increase the rate of condom and other contraceptive use among high-risk, sexually-active adolescent females. The grants were awarded to Hennepin County Human Services and Public Health Department in Minneapolis, Knox County Health Department in Knoxville, and Planned Parenthood of Greater Orlando in four central Florida counties.
While most of the program occurred in clinics, Hennepin County offered the program in seven school-based clinics, one STI/public health clinic, five community-based clinics, four teen health clinics, one hospital-based pediatric clinic, and one clinic for homeless youth. “The intervention is delivered in one-on-one, face-to-face sessions with a female health educator. It has two versions: The Pre-Contemplation Stage Module, which emphasizes delivering information and obtaining feedback about safer sex behaviors; and the Contemplation Stage Module, which emphasizes education, skills, self-efficacy, and self-esteem” (Kelsey, Layzer, Price, and Francis, 2018). The initial hour-long session was supplemented with three shorter sessions over a six-month period. In addition to being offered free condoms and informational materials, the one-on-one sessions included discussions about the consequences of unprotected sex, risk perception, preventing pregnancy and STIs, condoms, where to obtain condoms, secondary abstinence, and talking about sex. Over 2,000 adolescent females participated in the study. On average the women were 17.2 years of age, 17% were Hispanic, 35.8% were Black, 33% were white, and 13.6% identified as Other. Almost all participants were sexually active, although only 83.2% had been active in the 90 days preceding the introduction of the program. Roughly two-thirds of the women had unprotected sex in the 90 days before the baseline survey was conducted. Female health educators typically have a master’s degree in Public Health, Education, or Social Work. The project staff from each location attended a two-day workshop that emphasized the importance of listening and promoting conversation as opposed to educating. The biggest hurdle that staff encountered was retention rate. They found that transportation was a primary reason for the participants not attending the follow-up booster sessions. As a revsult, “it hired a transportation company to transport young women to and from sessions. In addition, Planned Parenthood of Greater Orlando received approval from the Office of Adolescent Health to offer booster sessions remotely via video conference or smart phone video chat (e.g., Skype, FaceTime)” (Kelsey, Layzer, Price, and Francis, 2018).
The conclusions of the SSI were overall positive. The percent of adolescents that were sexually active after three months fell to 74.84%, after six months it was at 75.12%. The most significant change after participating in the SSI was the decline in females that had sexual intercourse without any sort of contraceptive. Originally, two-thirds of participants were having unsafe sex, after three months that number dropped to 22.05%, and after 6 months it stayed steady at 23.84% (Kelsey, Layzer, Price, and Francis, 2018). The success of the small-scale implementation suggests that the program is enough for large-scale replication. The success was largely based on the effort given by the project staff, the training they went through, and the proviision of transportation and other means of following up at three and six months.

Through community based social service programs social work is evidenced to have an impact on overall healthcare in the community that is being serviced. Though more research is required, there has already been a quantitative impact on the population that specific programs are designed to help. In addition to affecting the health of the participants of these studies, there is a financial impact as well that has proven to be beneficial. Imagine if the United States were to invest more into social services throughout the country, aimed at other demographics. Based on the studies previously done, it can be inferred that a positive impact would be received. In addition to the healthcare services already provided, if more work was done aimed at prevention throughout our communities, an overall betterment of the general wellness of our population could be increased.

Hobel, C.J., Ross, M.G., Bernis, R.L., Bragonier, J.R., Nessim, S., Sandhu, M.,…Mori, B. (1994). The west Los Angeles preterm birth prevention project 1: Program impact on

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Jantzen Miller

In his analysis of the social problem of childhood obesity, Jantzen Miller divides his presentation into the following logical sections: (1) What is the problem and how is it a social problem? (2) What are some primary causes of the problem? (3) What are some strengths and weaknesses of previous attempts at a solution? (4) What is (your) approach to the problem in view of previous ones? (5) Anticipate at least two objections to your approach. (6) Respond to the objections. (7) Conclusion. His use of this logical structure makes the presentation user-friendly. Citing sources in MLA style to bolster his observations and arguments, Jantzen presents a thoughtful and logical analysis of this continuing social problem.

Before the 21st century, if you asked the average American what they thought a “food problem” was, the majority would most likely suggest problems such as famine, being too impoverished to afford food, or simple crop failure. The common strain between all of these food problems is the fact that, whatever the cause may be, there is far too little of it. As a result of the countless varieties of cheap, easily accessible unhealthy food in America, our problem is not that we have far too little of it, but in reality, that we have far too much of it. This problem victimizes children before they are even old enough to make their own educated decisions about their food consumption. This problem is known as childhood obesity, and in our modern world, one in five children is affected by it due to their overly calorific diets, causing or exacerbating countless maladies such as sleep apnea, diabetes, and heart disease (“Childhood Obesity”). Unlike how adult obesity can be blamed on personal choices, a child’s diet is manipulated by their parents and the American culture that they live in, making it one of the most important social problems of our time, to the point that it is now considered an epidemic.
First, a firm understanding of the causes of childhood obesity will serve well for further discussion on possible solutions to the issue. The causes can be summarized as being of three types: one, the biological mechanisms that cause the issue, from which the two other causes, those from parenting and those from American culture, can be interpreted. Biologically, the two commonly cited causes of the issue are overly calorific diets applied to children who don’t exercise enough to burn off what they eat, causing the excess calories to be stored as fat deposits on the body, and obesity spurred on by hormonal or genetic issues. However, research suggests that in 90% of cases, the first cause is what is responsible for the condition (“Childhood Obesity”).
Zooming further out, parents can also cause the issue due to the responsibility placed on them as parents. Parents act as role models with their own diets, and so children tend to eat diets highly similar to that of their parents. Additionally, parents control the majority of the food that goes in and out of the house, the place children spend most of their time, sometimes resulting in an excess of unhealthy choices, and few possible healthy options. For example, a parent’s habit of drinking soda is reflected in their children, whether this is through role modeling or it simply being the most available option in the household (Barna).
On the highest level, America has generated its own “food culture” that influences the food choices of Americans, including those of children. In America, it is common to see “body shaming,” or the promotion of an unhealthily low-calorie diet and lifestyle, coexist with the promotion of unhealthy fast food, both of which can have an impact on parents and children. For example, targeted fast food advertising attempts are often made towards children, which can cause them to eat unhealthy food (Linn and Novosat 147). The extent of the issue is made clear by the ten to fifteen billion dollars that food and beverage advertisers spend in order to target youth (Linn and Novosat 147).
In order to solve this issue, several different possible solutions have been proposed at each level, biological, parental, and cultural. The most common of these is on the biological and parental level, focusing on forming healthy diet and exercise habits in order to reduce the total consumption of calories to an acceptable level for health. While this approach is undeniably beneficial when properly performed, there are several downfalls to the common approach that can make it very difficult for a family that is just starting to work on getting to a baseline level of health to be able to stick with a proper regimen. Another common type of marketed food is “diet food,” which usually come in the form of low-calorie, individually packaged meals for managing portion sizes. However, these meals are often just as calorie-dense as other food a dieter may eat, but with smaller portion sizes (Foreman 128-129). As a result, diet foods can leave a dieter unsatisfied, coaxing them into breaking their healthy eating habits (Foreman 128-129). Exercise is also commonly overly stressed with this approach, but even strenuous exercise makes up a surprisingly low factor in the “energy equation.” For example, running a whole mile burns only about 125 calories, progress that is far too easily destroyed by eating a single candy bar (Haymes and Byrnes).
Approaches to childhood obesity have also been considered and attempted at the cultural and social level. One of these includes the banning of fast food advertising targeted at children, and another approach that has been tried is the taxing of sugary drinks. For example, New York introduced a penny-per-ounce tax on soda drinks (Saletan 168). In many European countries, advertising to children is heavily regulated (Linn and Novosat 149). As for food advertising, this approach misses the fact that parents, not children, in most cases, are the ones buying fast food, so efforts would likely be better focused by attempting to educate parents and children. However, this approach can be effective for teens, who often make some food choices on their own given the fact that they have more of their own money to spend. As for the taxing of sugary drinks, while sugary drinks are a great thing to cut out of a diet because they are simultaneously calorific and not filling, this approach makes the false equivalence that higher prices on these goods results in fewer purchases of them. An important point against this method is how cheap to produce most soda drinks are, such as Coke and Dr Pepper, costing only 99 cents at most grocery stores for a 2-liter bottle, and costing only pennies to manufacture (Mooney). Clearly, even with an additional tax levied on these drinks, they will remain far too affordable to reduce consumer purchases by much. Most importantly, however, both proposed social solutions miss the opportunity to explicitly educate parents and children, instead relying primarily upon subversive techniques in order to get people to “get it.”
In contrast to the weaknesses of each of these proposals, I would highly suggest some combination of the two, attempting to engage in healthy eating habits and educating parents and children on the issue at hand, while cutting out on the extraneous details that make it difficult to narrow in on the healthy habits that really matter. Diet culture often makes the presumption that their busy target audience will have all the time in the world to dedicate itself to countless sources prescribing a specific blend of vitamins and minerals, proper hydration, and alkaline water to achieve its promised goals. Also, the obsession with dieting and weight loss can be unhealthy, even leading to eating disorders (Kausman).
However, these details are often abstract dietary concepts that dieters looking to first reduce their weight to healthy levels shouldn’t need to worry about, especially children. Thus, on a social and cultural level, education about healthy diets could focus on the foods that matter most when it comes to calorie input. Many families fail to realize that most of their calories probably come from only a few sources, with a tablespoon of butter and oil containing 100 calories, a can of cola containing 150 or more, and there are 200 calories in a cup of pasta or other grains. This is in contrast to most fruits and vegetables, with a large orange having only 60 calories and an entire cup of broccoli containing only 30. Therefore, giving your family just a few less tablespoons of butter and one less can of soda can make all the difference, with the knowledge that eating fruits and vegetables in mass is perfectly acceptable to stave off hunger. In this way, my approach would allow education on the cultural level to allow parents to make better decisions about the food they purchase and prepare in the home, allowing both wider approaches to directly funnel into ending the biological cause of childhood obesity.
Nevertheless, there are several understandable concerns that could be brought up about my proposed solution, founded in the more obvious reasons that families do not eat healthy food. First, it could be argued that it is not the calorie dense food that is the major issue, but it becomes one based on the simple reality of hunger, and it is hard to get children to eat their vegetables. Secondly, it could be pointed out that I have assumed that parents will be mostly feeding their children home cooked meals and not the often-true reality that children will instead be consuming fast food and unhealthy frozen or prepared meals.
While both are perfectly valid issues, just like misinformation about the fundamentals of a good diet, these issues are derived from misinformation about food, and could easily be cleared up the same way that my approach intends to do so: education. In the case of kids not eating their vegetables, it is often the case that this aversion is because children never experience properly prepared vegetables, assuming that cold and raw is the only way to experience them. There are multiple cooking methods for vegetables that can add little or no calories to them that can make them enjoyable. While one common diet cliché is that broccoli is the enemy of all children, when it is steamed and has spices added to it, it becomes a much easier and more enjoyable to consume. As for the lack of home cooked meals, this is usually due to the conception that cooking is something esoteric and difficult, something that requires tons of time outside of a parent’s busy life to perform. However, there exist bountiful recipes on the Internet that allow for a person to simply dump ingredients in a pan or a crock pot and come back to a delicious home cooked meal. In summary, both problems could be cleared up with proper food education.
Unquestionably, the pervasiveness of childhood obesity is certainly a terrifying prospect that America will have to grapple with in the coming years. However, a growing problem within the discussion of the issue is the flurry of unfocused, overly complicated solutions often proposed to fix the issue. A much more simplistic solution could be undertaken, allowing for busy families to take the fullest advantage of the simple but well-crafted education that is given, allowing for American society to blossom into a much healthier version of itself.

Works Cited
Barna, Mark. “Parents serve as role models on soda.” The Nation’s Health, Feb.-Mar. 2019, p. 4. Opposing Viewpoints in Context.
“Childhood Obesity.” Opposing Viewpoints Online Collection, Gale, 2019. Opposing Viewpoints in Context.
Foreman, Judy. “Dieting and Exercise are Largely Ineffective.” Obesity, edited by Scott Barbour, Greenhaven Press, 2011, pp. 127-132. Opposing Viewpoints.
Haymes, E. M. and W. C. Byrnes (1993). “Walking and running energy expenditure estimated by Caltrac and indirect calorimetry.” Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise 25(12): 1365-1369.
Kausman, Rick. “The Public’s Obsession with Weight Loss and Thinness is Harmful.” Obesity, edited by Sylvia Engdahl, Greenhaven Press, 2015. Opposing Viewpoints.
Linn, Susan and Courtney L. Novosat. “Regulating Food Advertising to Children Will Reduce Obesity.” Obesity, edited by Scott Barbour, Greenhaven Press, 2011, pp. 147-155. Opposing Viewpoints.
Mooney, Phil. The 5 Cent Coke. The Coca-Cola Company, 2008.
Saletan, William. “Taxing Sugary Drinks Will Not Reduce Obesity.” Obesity, edited by Scott Barbour, Greenhaven Press, 2011, pp. 167-170. Opposing Viewpoints.

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Benjamin Greaves

“Apartheid, for all its power, had fatal flaws baked in, starting with the fact that it never made any sense. Racism is not logical” (Noah 75). When thinking about racism, many prominent examples stand out: apartheid in South Africa, slavery in the United States, and genocide against native peoples. Each of these has gradually come to an end, yet racism persists, despite its illogical nature. As Trevor Noah describes in his autobiography, Born a Crime, when racism stems from the foundational structures of society, it continually permeates throughout all aspects of life. With that comes violence, inequality, and a waste of human potential. Although the racial history of the United States differs from that of South Africa, there are still more similarities than differences. Non-white minorities faced, and continue to face, discrimination and prejudice from various sources; from institutions to popular culture, racism constantly presents itself in America – even in majority-minority states like Texas. As a result, there is a wealth and opportunity divide between people of color and whites that has neither been fully addressed nor adequately discussed. Seriously addressing racism requires a complex and multifaceted policy approach that should start with education. While in school, students are socialized on how to treat others, and racist views can either be cultivated or reversed in such a setting. In order to counteract the effect of white privilege – and other racial psychological constructs – on the education of minority students, school systems must diversify their staffs and improve training across all levels.
Review of Literature
Causes of Racism
As one of society’s most pervasive issues, racism can only be understood by examining its origins in history and contributory factors. People categorize each person they come across, and, most often, these categorizations begin with skin color. Subsequent interactions tend to give deference to skin color in positive or negative ways and can change the way society views a person. In America, from its initial colonization to the present, skin colors other than white have almost always been treated negatively. As James Boggs writes in his article about racism in the United States, black people were originally viewed as “savage” and as beneficiaries of the “submissiveness of slavery” (Boggs 4). This view was widely held by the white slave owners of the time, who dominated most of the culture of early America. Furthermore, they enforced this perspective through laws that legalized the subjugation of non-whites, a trend continuing from slavery, to segregation, to much of the de facto segregation that exists in present housing, criminal justice, and education.
Even as laws have eased in their severity, racial views negatively portraying black people and other minorities still remain in figments of popular culture and opinion. Barbara J. Fields, in her writing on labor history, states that these racial views and policies continue because of the concept of whiteness. As a racial identity, whiteness “entails material benefits” that are the rewards for being white (Fields 53). With such rewards resulting from just the color of their skin, whites have historically tried to keep power skewed in favor of themselves, not people of color. The motivation for an imbalance of power is rooted in the capitalist system of America, and the competition it creates. In his article, Boggs notes the correlation between “the rise of capitalism and the rise of racism,” as well as how it has influenced the type of work performed by African Americans (Boggs 3). Black workers tended to do more menial work relative to white coworkers in similar industries, maintaining racist views that they were lesser (Boggs 7). Beyond those living in the United States, immigrants would also be racially classified, which often limited work opportunities. Fields describes how not only African, but also Afro-Caribbean, immigrants “became black” and how Europeans were treated as white (Fields 51). These classifications directed new citizens and workers into jobs that were unofficially designated for the black and white races, helping to maintain the status quo. Through the evolution of race and racism in the United States, it becomes clear that its causes are rooted in both history and economic competition.

Structural Racism
Stemming from the history and economic system of the United States, racism has extended into other structural components of society and culture. Some of the most prevalent examples of this arise from capitalism. All capitalist economies share a common trait: income inequality. Though it tends to vary in degree from country to country, income inequality can present challenges and take different forms. In America, disparities are highest between gender and race, with men and whites earning more. American society has traditionally been dominated by white men for the majority of its existence, so income inequality is far more extreme among women of color. For example, in Ruqaiijah Yearby’s work on the economic impacts on women’s health, she points out that minority women “are disproportionately employed in low-paying occupations” with little variation in job-type (Yearby). This discrepancy indicates that structural racism is not mutually exclusive to other inequalities and that many elements of racism are intersectional; however, minority races share a common theme of being disadvantaged relative to whites. Beyond income inequality, African Americans and minorities have struggled to form and maintain unions – a difficult task in capitalist society. Many African Americans still live in the south, where “unions barely exist” and many “right-to-work laws […] took root” (“Black”). A lack of unions not only results from structural resistance to them but also from efforts to disadvantage workers that are a majority-minority. Structural racism has extended from the history and the economics of the past to create widespread inequalities and disadvantages among people of color, especially those that are women.

White Privilege and Implicit Bias
Despite the progress made on identifying racism across society – as well as its structural causes – it persists, largely because of white privilege. On a basic level, white privilege entails “being in the majority racial group” and receiving advantages simply for being in that group; the ‘privilege’ is not something earned but rather a status associated with a person from birth (Understanding). The advantages and status do not apply to people of color, causing them to have to work harder to achieve the same ends as white people. More often than not, white people are unaware of their privilege. This can lead to unintentional racial bias in “personal interactions and judgements” that lead to the preference of whites instead of minorities (Understanding). Furthermore, white privilege can also cause problems by perpetuating “systemic barriers” that disadvantage people of color (Understanding). To better understand how people with white privilege sustain this divide, the concept of implicit bias needs to be analyzed. Defined as “the bias in judgement” resulting “from subtle cognitive processes,” implicit bias is what drives people to make a racist association without actively thinking about it (Implicit). Although this naturally lends itself to white privilege, it should be noted that African Americans and other minorities experience implicit bias as well. People “unwittingly exhibit racist attitudes and beliefs,” even if they favor racial equality, with the innate associations that they make (De Castillo 263). It is because of this that white privilege, and the racism associated with it, still continues in spite of the best intentions of white people.

Unaware Racism
In recent years, the overt and openly systematic forms of racism have begun to decline, particularly as policy efforts have shifted towards more integration and racial healing. However, given the structural nature of racism in American society, it persists through individuals and the institutions that they compose. People – especially those who are white or of European descent – are susceptible to unaware racism, even if they do not actively exercise racist tendencies against others. Although unaware racism lends itself closely to implicit bias, it is based more in negative racial views. While discussing the validity and awareness of race-based researchers, Jonathan Michael Kaplan describes unaware racism through the lens of racial ignorance among whites. Kaplan relates white ignorance to unawareness of “the prevalence and the significance of racism” throughout the country (Kaplan 160). With this unawareness comes a lack of motivation to learn more about racism and how someone can inadvertently perpetuate “racial myth[s],” as well as the absence of willpower to try and limit racism in daily life (Kaplan 167). The factors that cause white ignorance and unaware racism vary, but one of the most prevalent is white fragility. Lori Gallegos De Castillo discusses white fragility in her work on unconscious racial prejudice and resistance, calling it “defensive moves” and “behaviors of withdrawal” made in response to racial stress or discussion (De Castillo 268). These actions turn people away from addressing their own racial ignorance or subconscious prejudice and prevent them from learning how to become more tolerant, something that could otherwise be accomplished relatively quickly.

Institutional Racism and Environmental Racism
As individuals continue to act with unaware racism, the institutions that they are a part of reflect that racism and recreate it in accordance with those actions. Institutional racism extends across many fields and affects almost every aspect of daily life. The most important and influential institutions in the United States are typically controlled by white people, and thus have their role skewed away from equally addressing the needs of all demographics. As Camara Phyllis Jones notes in her research, institutional racism is marked by “differential access to the goods, services, and opportunities” in a society (Jones 16). This differential exists in health care, the justice system, the education system, and others. Confronting institutional racism entails “naming racism” and the “mechanisms and impacts” by which it is enabled to affect people of color (Jones 19). However, this alone is not enough to truly limit the impact of institutional racism. Extended efforts to name and address the structurally racist factors behind institutions are needed to curtail their damaging impact.
Environmental racism has moved to the forefront of problems resulting from institutional racism. Institutions, such as businesses, often dispose of waste and pollutants in low-income, minority-based communities. As these communities tend to have less political capital, the institutions of government, including the justice system, are less likely to support their complaints. Luke W. Cole writes that the result is a “disproportionate burden of […] pollution” and “garbage dumps” falling on communities of color (Cole 1992). Almost paradoxically, environmental racism has developed into an increasingly serious problem, just as environmental conservationism and activism have increased as well. The discrepancy between the two can be explained by the racial composition of both groups. While those that suffer from environmental racism tend to be people of color, D.R. Keller has observed that environmentalism “has its roots in affluent white citizens” (Keller 382). The goals of said citizens favor preserving wilderness and the elements of nature that tend to be enjoyed recreationally, a facet of the environment that is vastly different from the parts of society affected by environmental racism. Given that environmental advocacy groups so often overlook the struggles of minorities in this regard, it is unsurprising that this form of racism has been – and will continue to
be – inadequately addressed.

Internalized Racism and Cultural Racism
Most of the widespread effects of racism have clear, observable outcomes, and their negative impacts can usually be identified. However, one of the subtler – and perhaps more dangerous – effects of racism comes from how it influences the psyche of African Americans and other minorities. This influence is defined and explained through internalized racism, or how people begin to believe and accept the racist narratives and actions taken against them. Succumbing to internalized racism leads to feelings of inferiority and can cause people to misdirect their feelings against other members of their community. Tony N. Brown discussed the consequences of this form of racism in his work on racial stratification and mental health. According to Brown, “nihilistic tendencies, […] suppressed anger expression, […and] delusional denial tendencies” are “prevalent and impairing” mental health indicators associated with internalized racism (Brown 295). These illnesses lead to problems ranging from self-destructive tendencies, to emotional repression, to being out of touch with reality, respectively (Brown 296-97). Each of the aforementioned outcomes makes it more difficult for people of color to resist internalizing racism, and they contribute to a cycle of doubt that continues to repress minorities.
Beyond hindering the advancement of racial minorities, internalized racism enables the success of cultural racism. Already, institutions – like the education system – gloss over the value and importance of cultures from non-white groups, such as Native Americans. In doing so, the history and culture of whites has become the dominant culture in society. The effect of this dominance is exhibited through its impact on people of color who are either entering America or are already citizens. As Juan Chen and David T. Takeuchi describe in their work on intermarriage and ethnic identity, many Asian women seek “interracial and transnational marriages” in the United States to find a higher quality of life (Chen 877). However, these marriages come at the cost of “identificational assimilation” to the dominant white culture, whereby ethnic identity and culture are lost (Chen 885). Although just one method of assimilation, marriage represents how culture may be lost upon entering the country. For those who are already citizens, internalized racism aids cultural racism. Brown also attributed anti-self issues to racial stratification, stating that it causes individuals to seek “white approval” and assimilate “to white norms and behaviors” as a means of escaping being black or a minority (Brown 296). This implicates internalized racism as a driving force behind adopting and supporting the dominant culture over one’s own, thereby sustaining cultural racism.

Consequences of Racism
As racism continues to permeate in society, its consequences will limit the advancement of both minorities and the United States as a whole. On various levels, not only has racism overtly detracted from the lives of people of color, but it has also had detrimental ramifications for society. The extent and continuity of racism in America has led to mental health problems and internalized destructive tendencies, as well as feelings of self-doubt and inferiority compared to white people. With the dominance of one narrowly configured culture in society, immigrants and citizens alike have had to sacrifice ethnic identities and their cultural past to integrate. These sacrifices strain the diversity that helps America innovate and advance; moreover, the need to assimilate creates conflicts between ethnic groups. As a result of these race-based problems, the United States is at risk of exacerbating its difference between being “technologically most advanced” and “politically most backward” (Boggs 8). This is a dangerous contradiction, and one that challenges the American white narrative of meritocracy, liberty, and equality, contradictions that stand to become more pronounced as America shifts from a white-majority populace.

Contributing Factors to Racism in Education
Even as the demographics of Texas change faster than the rest of the country, people and institutions resist those changes. Nowhere is that more evident than in housing markets and neighborhoods, both of which have a direct effect on education and school funding. The state of Texas divides funding for school districts between local property taxes and state funds, with additional funds coming from the federal government; however, local taxes play a more important monetary role, as the taxation of housing provides more money to meet the base funding goals for schools (Swaby). In recent years, this discrepancy has widened to “55.5 percent” of school budgets being covered locally and only “35 percent” is provided by the state – the remaining percentage is federally funded (Ramsey). The reliance on property taxes has strained the budgets of ever-growing schools, particularly in low-income communities, where taxation rates are often maximized. Given that, as of 2017, African Americans and Hispanics had a median income of “$40,258” and “$50,486,” respectively, compared to the income of “$68,145” among non-Hispanic whites, high property taxes have further racial and ethnic consequences (Fontenot). Funding differences in low- and high-income communities reflect not only economic disparities in Texas schools, but also the underlying racial makeup of those communities.

Race and Housing
Following the end of segregation, efforts to integrate were hindered by both mortgages and ‘white flight,’ two obstacles that persist to this day. Originally, African Americans who wanted to buy homes in traditionally white neighborhoods would be “denied mortgage financing” (Lang 36). Although successful at limiting integration, the refusal to provide these necessary loans came under public and regulatory scrutiny, morphing the practice into its current form: offering more subprime, high-rate mortgages instead (figure 1). These are “systematically

Among households in 2015 with at least one regular mortgage, % of each group paying these rates

Note: Hispanics may be of any race. “Not reported” categories not shown. Data on whites, blacks and Asians refer to single-race groups.

Figure 1. Mortgage Rates Per Household by Race, Pew Research Center

[…] higher-rate loans” than those offered to whites, typically making homeownership riskier and more expensive for people of color (Lang 36). As a result of these financing options, African Americans face difficult choices that often favor cheaper housing options over homes in better developed – typically white – neighborhoods. Even though this can alleviate the pressures of meeting otherwise more expensive mortgage payments, in states like Texas, it comes at the cost of the property values that support local schools.
For those that do pursue homes in predominately white neighborhoods, where property values support better school districts, African American and minority homeowners face the risk of white flight. Coined after the end of segregation, the phrase refers to the ‘flight’ of whites away from newly integrated areas and neighborhoods. Even now, decades later, “white flight has […] endured as a response” to the efforts of minorities to further integrate into white communities (Lang 33). This continues to not only hinder complete desegregation, but also perpetuate racist attitudes. Without peaceful exposure to other races in normal living situations, unfounded prejudices subsist and cause racial inequalities in education and society. In school districts, for instance, “desegregation significantly accelerates white flight” out of public schools, with white students either leaving the district or transferring from “public to private schools within the district” (Rossell 210-211). On a surface level, this simply represents changes in a district’s demographics. However, given the resources that are often made more available to whites, their absence leads to notable effects on schools. While leaving a school district entirely can remove citizens – and thus their tax revenue – from the district’s funding base, whites leaving for private schools creates a different impact. With the switch to private schools, money and resources are directed towards “supplementing […] private options,” taking away the extra support that citizens can offer to help bolster public schools (Trounstine 380). With the income of minorities often falling far below that of whites, it is difficult for them to continue to sustain a school’s former standards or quality. As white flight continues, communities will lose the ability to integrate and face greater risks of damage to their schools.

School Funding and Racial Inequality
When funding for a minority-majority school decreases, the students and their families face deteriorating circumstances that often compound each other’s effects. The low property values in “primarily urban and migrant areas” leads to less funding for the schools in those areas, making it difficult for students “to become productive members of society” (Ostrander 272). With fifty-six percent of the composition of urban counties as non-white, this has serious implications for students of color (figure 2). These circumstances often inhibit students from attaining the necessary economic success to move into a new neighborhood or to seek a better life. As a result, the future generations of that student’s family are affected in a debilitating cycle. Students that remain in the same poor communities subsequently “send their children” to the same “underfunded schools” that they themselves attended (Ostrander 273). Given that “67 percent of African American families” from the poorest neighborhoods continue to live there over a generation later, members of multiple generations of families can fall subject to racial inequality; many of whom end up facing similar difficulties and challenges as their parents and grandparents (Rothstein). This situation is worsened by the fact that inadequate school funding reduces student access to technology. When considering access to technology across urban, suburban, and rural areas, “white […] suburban students” have the biggest advantage, which plays a significant role in competing for “increasingly more technical” jobs (Hendrix 64-66). Beyond completing homework or studying for tests, the ability to utilize technology and the internet greatly effects a student’s preparation for future careers. With poorer schools struggling to provide

Figure 3. Distribution of Public Elementary and Secondary Students by Race and Ethnicity, National Center for Education Statistics
updated or sufficient numbers of computers and laptops, this issue becomes vital to students of color who may lack these devices at home. As the majority of students attend either primarily non-white or non-suburban schools that tend to lack adequate funding, their shortcomings will continue to reflect upon both racial and geographic inequality (figure 3).
The School-to-Prison Pipeline (SPP)
In the United States, the incarceration of minorities occurs at an alarmingly higher rate than that of whites; a rate evidenced by the fact that in 2015, African Americans and Hispanics “comprised 56% of all incarcerated people,” despite only making up “32% of the US population” (“Criminal”). The concept of a ‘school-to-prison pipeline’ (SPP) has developed to explain the origins of this trend. The SPP identifies the role of education as a key factor that influences the future likelihood of people of color becoming incarcerated. In school districts, elected school boards listen and respond “to strongly held community sentiments,” such as racist beliefs and attitudes (Stein 2009-2010). This can lead to support for policies like school disturbance laws – which lead to disproportionate consequences for otherwise normal teenage behavior – or the passage of strict disciplinary procedures. These laws and disciplinary practices have been adopted by Texas and many other states in recent years, causing African American students to nationally become “2.2 times as likely” as whites to face discipline from law enforcement (“2013-14”). Though Texas has removed “criminal citations” as an “option for dealing with chronic misbehavers,” school discipline remains an important factor behind the SPP (“Class” 7).
The reasoning behind current school disciplinary procedures is often shortsighted, as the consequences for rule-violations focuses mainly on a singular punishment, not on a constructive effort to try and help the student become more productive. As a result, these procedures often harm more than help a student’s academic well-being, particularly if the student has a mental illness or disability. Nationwide, preschool students that are black are “3.6 times more likely to be suspended” than white students, a statistic that later increases to “3.8 times more likely” in kindergarten through 12th grade (Delale-O’Connor 179). From a young age, African Americans and other minorities are at a greater risk of facing disciplinary action. Given that they consistently face higher rates of suspension throughout their education, the methodology behind suspensions is flawed and dangerous to minority students’ academic success. For example, students who receive suspensions are “three times more likely” to later drop out of school and after returning from a suspension, they are then “stigma[tized]” (Kocon 17). While suspended, students fall behind, making it difficult to keep pace with their peers. The stigma with which they return amplifies this difficulty, worsening an already burdensome situation and increasing the likelihood of dropping out. Furthermore, students of color are disproportionately affected legally, as “[50%] of school-based arrests” are of African Americans, despite the fact that they only compose “15% of all students” (Kocon 16). Though in Texas white students are arrested more often, black students are referred to court and labeled delinquent at a higher rate (figure 4). The fact that African Americans are more likely to be arrested and punished in school leads to an inequality that reflects upon the incarceration rate discrepancies among young adults, setting the groundwork for a school-to-prison pipeline.

Figure 4. Texas Rates of Juvenile Justice Involvement by Race and Ethnicity in 2013, Hogg Foundation – The University of Texas at Austin

White Privilege in Education
As one of the most influential agents of socialization, education shapes the attitudes and beliefs of children and young adults. This can either positively contradict racist beliefs, or negatively reaffirm them in children – often leading to internalized racism among students of color. Unfortunately, the latter is currently more prominent in schools, as white privilege influences the way teachers and other staff interact with minority students. Nationally – as of the 2011-2012 school year – “82 percent of public school teachers were white” along with “80 percent” of public school principals (“The State” 6-7). That same year, Texas schools, though more diverse than the national percentages, shared a white majority of teachers and principals: “63.53 [percent]” and “64.87 [percent],” respectively (“Employed Teacher” 1; “Employed Principal” 1). This trend in school staff demographics has continued to the present, remaining incongruous to the racial makeup of students in Texas; in 2017-18, only “27.9 [percent]” of total publicly enrolled school students were white (“Enrollment” ix). As whites disproportionately hold teaching and administrative positions in schools, white privilege is far more likely to permeate the education of minority students.
The widespread control of whites in schools extends back to the end of segregation. When schools were segregated, black teachers taught black students, and there was a larger percentage of African American teachers. However, once schools began to integrate, African Americans were “dismissed or demoted” from teaching and administrative roles (Nelson Jr. 453). These roles were then filled by white teachers, leading to the demographic differential seen today. Furthermore, as these African American teachers were displaced, black students became more susceptible to the white privilege and unaware racism of whites. Since the onset of desegregation, this situation has become self-sustaining. According to the national data as of 2012, “73 percent” of bachelor’s students majoring in education were white, along with “71 percent” of those pursuing a masters (“The State” 11). These data indicate that whites are likely to be more competitive in the educational job market, helping to maintain the white majority in schools. With this majority, white privilege is sustained to the benefit of white students and maintains the status quo that routinely disfavors students of color. Beyond the role of teachers and staff, white privilege and its effect on students is exacerbated by curriculums and textbooks. Modern textbooks often present “racism as a tragedy of the past” and as divergent from present-day controversies, influencing students to ignore or trivialize current racial issues (Hughes 203). By failing to adequately address the history of race and its new role in the US, textbooks fail to help students analyze the causes of racism. This makes students less capable of working against the structural components of society that perpetuate racism and white privilege.

White Privilege and School Staff
With a majority of white teachers comes unequal treatment among students, as personal and implicit biases shape their interactions. In many cases, this allows for white students to learn in a more privileged environment that exists at the expense of their minority counterparts. For many white teachers, “racist stereotypes and attitudes” can be “ingrained in them,” making it difficult to treat students equally, regardless of intentions (Mazama 727). These attitudes direct the focuses and efforts of teachers towards white students, neglecting the needs of students of color. As a result, they are more likely to struggle academically and face disciplinary problems. However, a more alarming consequence is that of special education classes. African American students are “overrepresented across […] disability categories” in schools, with “80 percent” of these students being referred by teachers (Jordan 128-130). Teacher referrals, which are often influenced by stereotypes, cause students to be placed in separate classes to address supposed learning disabilities. For students incorrectly assigned to disability classes, the implications for their education are severe. These classes follow different curriculums, so for students who belong in normal classes, they are set behind and are less prepared after graduation. Furthermore, the removal of African Americans from classes extends the privilege afforded to whites, as classes become less diverse and offer greater attention to white students. Given that black teachers tend to enable greater “self-esteem and confidence” in black students, addressing the lack of diversity among teaching staffs is very important (Nelson Jr. 453). Employing a higher proportion of black and minority teachers would not only help limit the extent of white privilege in schools, but also help to end the disproportionate number of African American students in special education classes. Additionally, this would allow white educators to see firsthand how to more effectively teach and connect with students of color, curbing the benefits of white students’ privilege.
Like teachers, counselors play a very important role in a student’s education, yet they also struggle to adequately overcome the extent of white privilege in schools. Given that “the majority of counselors [are…] White,” this privilege is just as prevalent among them as teachers, reducing the likelihood of it being addressed and countered internally (Hays 134; figure 5).
Students rely on counselors to provide advice and help for personal problems, making the relationship between counselor and student an essential part of being academically successful. Counselors that favor whites often struggle to connect with students of color, tilting that relationship away from being equitably applied. For many counselors, white privilege can be a difficult concept to acknowledge. When informed about it, responses ranged from feeling a “need for advocacy” to “resistance [toward] learning about racism” (Hays et al. 243). Resisting the ideas of racism and white privilege only serve to perpetuate them, as well as increase the chances of racial favoritism. Moreover, the lack of a consistent recognition indicates that students of color face a real danger of being denied sufficient help and resources. When compounded with the effect that teachers can have, counselors who disregard white privilege further exacerbate the divide between minority and white students.

Consequences of White Privilege in Schools
Though the response to white privilege from school staffs has been lacking, minority parents – especially African Americans – have made efforts to limit its effects on their children. Stemming from the fact that much of the “influence” of African Americans to try and change education “has been lost,” a growing number of parents have decided to avoid public schools altogether (Nelson Jr. 455). This allows parents to have more control over their child’s education, as well as the racism that they may face. Rather than risk placement in special education classes or the school-to-prison pipeline, some black parents have chosen to homeschool their children. Homeschooling is one of “the fastest-growing form[s] of education” that also has a “noticeable increase in […] involvement” from African Americans, encompassing over “10 [percent] of all homeschooled children” (Mazama 724). By choosing to homeschool their children, parents are able to provide an educational environment free of white privilege and its accompanying risks. Homeschooling can also educate about racism through a different narrative than that taught in schools, making the issue more likely to be appropriately addressed by minority children with a stronger personal agency. Although individuals are free to choose the means of education for their families, the fact that homeschooling can be a better alternative to public education is very telling of the state of racism and privilege in the United States.
For minority students that do graduate from school, race-related issues continue into college. As of the fall of 2016, “9.1 million” students of the “16.9 million” enrolled in degree-granting undergraduate institutions were white (“Undergraduate”). With this overwhelming majority of white students, it can be difficult for minority students to socialize. This can affect academic performance and often relates back to their time in public schools. White privilege, and the staff who exhibit it, negatively “influence […] academic self-concept and motivation” among students of color (Reynolds 144). Students struggling with these negative influences carry them into postsecondary education, retaining feelings of self-doubt in yet another environment that is dominated by the presence of whites. When combined with the difficulty of socializing into the majority racial group, past experiences in school can severely derail the college educations of minorities.

Racism is one of the most complex issues in the United States and is deeply ingrained in the structural institutions of America. Although resolving racism will require societal changes over time, education provides the means to begin the process of healing and tolerance. However, given the homogenous state of schools across the country and in Texas, a multi-faceted approach is needed to limit white privilege and racial inequalities. Legislatively, stronger housing and mortgage rate regulations need to be implemented. By increasing the oversight and regulatory standards on mortgage lenders, the disproportionately higher interest rates offered to people of color could be limited, shifting the focus away from race and solely on credit. This would allow minority families to avoid choosing between finances and quality schools. In states like Texas, school financing needs to be reformed to reduce the burden on local households; low-income communities should not face maxed-out property tax rates to fund low quality schools. Regarding the school-to-prison pipeline, states must change the goal of school discipline policies to focus more on learning from mistakes, rather than just on punishments. School districts can reflect this through changes in student codes of conduct. Implementing these improvements will help limit the systemic factors that contribute to the broad racial inequalities in schools.
In order to reduce the extent of white privilege, as well as its impact on students of color, both long- and short-term changes need to take place. Ultimately, school staffing needs to shift demographically to exhibit greater diversity. As they diversify, the ability of white privilege to permeate education will diminish, enabling students to be taught by staffs that bear a greater resemblance to their own racial makeup. Achieving this diversity can be accomplished in a number of ways. By raising the salaries of teachers, students studying in college may be more likely to consider pursuing a major in education. For minority students – who tend to risk more financially to attend college – this would provide additional motivation to pursue teaching as a profession. Furthermore, providing government scholarships for education majors could help bridge the gap between whites and minorities who pursue a future in education. Until greater diversity is actually achieved, actions can be taken in the short-term to better equip white teachers and counselors to deal with privilege and other race-related issues. Offering seminars and training about white privilege can help staff recognize the consequences of their actions, helping to check the extra attention that is afforded to white students. Additionally, generating an emphasis on the multicultural nature of students makes teachers more prepared to address the needs of individuals, regardless of race or ethnicity. With better training and education, white teachers can develop the self-efficacy and confidence needed to best help minority students, reducing the impact of white privilege until greater diversity exists.
Providing equity in education requires enacting many expansive reforms across legislative, district, and individual levels. However, by initiating these changes, the influence of white privilege will decrease in schools, reducing the barriers that limit the academic success of students of color. With fewer barriers, minority students can prepare for the future at a level more equal to that of whites. This sets the groundwork to reduce other racial inequalities and gradually remove racism from the foundations of American society.

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Yadira Garcia

Un análisis sicológico del personaje Rosamunda del cuento “Rosamunda” de Carmen Laforet

            Rosamunda vivió dos etapas muy importantes en su vida.  La primera etapa fue cuando era joven y su pasión era la poesía y la otra fue después de que conoció al hombre que iba a ser su esposo.  En su juventud Rosamunda fue una poetisa muy famosa, admirada y reconocida por la gente de la gran ciudad. Fueron los años más felices de su vida. Ella se decía a sí misma que era una “mariposa de oro” porque vivía libre y feliz llena de ilusiones. Sin duda su juventud, belleza y talento cautivaban a las personas que la conocían.

No obstante, cuando conoció al que creyó que era el amor de su vida, toda su alegría y ganas de vivir se le fueron apagando poco a poco. Aquel hombre del que ella se había enamorado perdidamente era un hombre abusivo, celoso, borracho y controlador. Lamentablemente, él no dejó que ella siguiera creciendo como artista. Los años fueron pasando y su frustración fue creciendo más y más.

Rosamunda tuvo hijos, pero eran unos ingratos.  El único de ellos que ella consideraba su hijo fue Florisel, porque él era un muchacho sensible y cariñoso, y lo más importante siempre la escuchaba.  Tristemente ese murió.  Fue cuando Rosamunda se quiso volver loca por el dolor que le causó la pérdida de su hijo.

Como resultado, huyó de su casa para ir a la gran ciudad.  Quería saber si podía recuperar esos años cuando había sido famosa y por lo menos buscar un poco de consuelo haciendo lo que más le gustaba hacer.  Después de un tiempo en la gran ciudad lo que la hizo regresar a su casa fueron las cartas de su esposo rogándole que volviera, y diciéndole que las cosas fueran a ser diferentes en esta ocasión.

Yo pienso que tal vez cuando ella regrese los primeros días él va a aparentar que ha cambiado, pero yo creo que no.  Creo que todo va a seguir siendo igual para Rosamunda y que su esposo va a seguir abusando física y mentalmente de ella.  Tal vez su esposo tome una terapia que le ayude con el manejo de su temperamento y alcoholismo.  Si yo fuera Rosamunda ya no le daría ninguna oportunidad más. Yo entiendo que la historia se desarrolló en una época cuando las mujeres seguían con un matrimonio a pesar de saber que las cosas en esa relación ya no funcionaban.

Translation by Georgette Sullins:

Rosamunda lived two important periods in her life.  The first period was when she was young, and her passion was poetry.  The other period was after she met the man who was going to be her husband.  In her youth, Rosamunda was a very famous, admired and renown poet.  She was renown by the people in the city.  Those were the happiest years of her life.  She called herself a “golden butterfly” because she lived free full of illusions.  Without a doubt, her youth, beauty and talent captivated the people that she met.

Nevertheless, when she met the one who she believed would be the love of her life, all her happiness and desire to live were destroyed little by little.  That man with whom she completely fell in love was abusive, jealous, drunken and controlling.  Lamentably, he did not allow her to keep growing as an artist.  As the years passed, her frustration grew more and more.

Rosamunda had children, but they were ingrates.  The only one that she considered her son was Florisel because he was sensitive, affectionate and most importantly, he always listened to her.  Sadly, he died.  This was when Rosamunda wanted to go crazy, because of the pain over the loss of her son.

As a result, she fled from her home to go to the big city.  She wanted to find out if she could regain those years when she had been famous and at least look for a bit of comfort doing what she most liked to do.  After a while in the big city, what made her return home were the letters from her husband, begging her to return and telling her that things would be different this time.

I think that perhaps when she returns, during the first days he will pretend that he has changed, but I really don’t think so.  I believe that everything will continue the same for Rosamunda, and that her husband is going to continue abusing her physically and mentally.  Perhaps her husband will go into therapy, which may help him manage his temperament and alcoholism.  If I were Rosamunda, I would not give him another chance.  However, I understand that the story came from a time when women held onto their marriage despite knowing that things in that relationship were not working.

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