Write an essay (approx. 700-1000 words) on one of the given topics. To support your ideas, provide plenty of specific evidence, including correctly introduced and documented quotations. Use any two of these four poems. Read the following poems from Good Poems for Hard Times (hint: pay particular attention to issues of memory and the ways the poems treat the daily and quotidian; the small moments and the “ordinary”:o Lisel Mueller, “Things” p. 104o Maria Mazziotti Gillan, After School on Ordinary Days” p. 135o Noel Coward, “Nothing is Lost” p. 208o Patricia Hampl, “This is How Memory Works” p. 236•
Your essay should include the following:
Former EH 102 Class
Dr. Kathryn Locey
22 April 2010
Signatures and Apples: Children Claiming Identity
A young girl and boy take their first steps toward forging their identities. In Julia Alvarez’s “Dusting,” a girl decides that she wants to be more than a diligent housekeeper like her mother. In Alberto Rios’s “In Second Grade Miss Lee I Promised Never to Forget You and I Never Did,” a boy catches his first glimpse of romantic love by listening to his unconventional teacher. Both of these children learn important lessons about life from significant adults. And both Alvarez and Rios use strong figurative language to convey their feelings about these important formational moments from childhood.
Alvarez uses personification and hyperbole to describe the mother’s cleaning. The speaker saw “[m]y name was swallowed in the towel . . .” (line 13), expressing the way her mom wiped away her name with the dust-cloth. This example of personification reveals how the speaker feels threatened with a loss of significance. Her mom cleaning and wiping away her name seems to take away the unique individual she is. The towel being capable of swallowing makes it seem hungry to devour her identity. Another description involves hyperbole: “[T]he pine grew luminous” (16) exaggerates the way the furniture shines after being dusted. It also exaggerates the mother’s extent of cleaning. Cleaning becomes the mother’s identity in the poem. As she wipes away her daughter’s attempts to use dust in a creative way, she is staying true to who she is. The mother has accepted that her role of simply contributing to the beauty of the pine furniture is the proper one.
Simile is used to represent the development of the child’s identity. As the girl plays in the dust “[p]racticing signatures like scales” (5), she is expressing her growth as an individual. Her signing her name in the dust gives her a separation from what she views her mother to stand for, which is cleaning and no fun. By writing her name in the dust, the girl is showing a playful side that is the opposite of what her mother shows, thus developing her own identity. And the practicing “like scales” gives foresight into her potential future as a literary artistbecause a musician must practice scales before she can play more difficult compositions.
Rios also uses figurative language when he describes Miss Lee as an influential person in the speaker’s life. She had a positive influence that the young school boy has never forgotten. To this day he still remembers her looking not like a typical teacher but “like a real movie star” (22). This simile suggests the glamour Miss Lee introduced into his second-grade life. He also uses the metonymy “if she would have just combed herself more” (23) to explain that she was always a little wild, not as conventional as the other grown-up women he observed.Furthermore, this reference to her “uncombed” nature admits that, at some level, he recognized that she was not quite appropriate.
Still, the word apples is repeated to emphasize the teacher’s strong influence on the boy’s life. The apples bring in the idea of love as romantic by alluding to the Garden of Eden and Adam and Eve as the first couple. They also suggest forbidden knowledge—the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. When Miss Lee tells the story of the French lovers, which he is too young to even understand, the young boy develops a passionate love for her that continues throughout his life. He states, “I would keep apples / [f]or you” (24-25), meaning that he will never forget the type of love she introduced into his life, and he will cherish the time he had with her in class. He makes an allusion to the tradition of students bringing an apple to the teacher, but these apples he keeps are not literal: they representhis profound gratitude to her for opening up his world.
Just as the dusting mother and the flamboyant Miss Lee affected the children in their charge, these two poems affect their readers on more than a literal level. The poems appeal to us not only through depicting memorable events in the lives of their speakers but by describing these events through figurative language. Personification, hyperbole, simile, metonymy and allusion help us to empathize with a young girl’s decision to claim her identity and a young boy’s awakening into romantic possibility.
Alvarez, Julia. “Dusting.” Madden 262.
Madden, Frank, ed. Exploring Literature. 4th ed. New York: Pearson-Longman, 2009. Print.
Rios, Alberto. “In Second Grade Miss Lee I Promised Never to Forget You and I Never Did.”
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