Finding Relief: “Tom Sawyer” • IRJE #4

In the classic novel Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain, a young boy named Tom goes on daily adventures, including average, day-to-day excursions and wild, life-or-death escapades. Near the beginning of the novel, Tom attends boring Sunday church, and finds relief from the many droning prayers in a beetle, which is one of his many fine possessions. After taking the beetle out and playing with it, the beetle bit him. With a quick reflex, Tom chucked the beetle to the ground, where a poodle found interest in the creature:

Presently a vagrant poodle came idling along, sad at heart, lazy with the summer softness and the quiet, weary of captivity, sighing for a change. He spied the beetle; drooping tail lifted and wagged. He surveyed the prize; walked around it; smelt at it from a safe distance; walked around it again; grew bolder, and took a closer smell; then lifted his lip and made a gingerly snatch at it, just missing it; made another, and another […] grew weary at last […] His head nodded, and little by little his chin descended and touched the enemy, who seized it. There was a sharp yelp, a flirt of the poodle’s head, and the beetle fell a couple yards away, and lit on its back once more. The neighbouring spectators shook with a gentle inward joy, several faces went behind fans and handkerchiefs, and Tom was entirely happy.

What’s so great about Twain’s books like Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn is both how realistic they are and how detailed they are. Twain describes the scene with the poodle and the beetle in such detail as to perfectly illustrate how attentive children can be in times of crisis; including times of extreme boredom.

I’ll Stay Home

Oh, the people outside are frightful

But my bed is so delightful

And since I’ve no place to go

I’ll stay home, I’ll stay home, I’ll stay home.

 

The traffic doesn’t show signs of stopping

And I’ve got me some YouTube for watching

The blinds are shut tightly closed, so

I’ll stay home, I’ll stay home, I’ll stay home.

 

When I finally overcome my fright

How I’ll hate going out with a moan

But if I it really wraps me tight

Every day I’ll feel at home!

 

And the stores are slowly closing

But, my dear, I’ll still be avoiding

All the public bathrooms so

I’ll stay home, I’ll stay home, I’ll stay home.

Sex versus Sexuality: An IRJE for “The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo”

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid is a beautiful and heart-breaking book about fame, love, and identity. The main character, Monique, is a struggling journalist who is asked to do an interview with Evelyn Hugo, a famous actress who is now in the later years of her life, by the woman herself. Monique is surprised, to say the least, and is even more astonished when Hugo admits she doesn’t just want to do an interview with Monique. She wants to give Monique her whole life story and have Monique write her biography which could sell for millions of dollars. As Monique learns about Hugo’s life, many secrets are revealed, but one of the most significant ones is her identity. Hugo tells Monique that she is bisexual, and that throughout all of her marriages and husbands, she was secretly in love with another actress, Celia St. James. Near the end of Hugo’s life story, Monique asks her about her relationship with Celia:

“Did being bisexual put a strain on your relationship?” I want to make sure to portray her sexuality with all of its nuance, in all of its complexity.

“What do you mean?” she asks. There is a slight edge to her voice.

“You lost the woman you loved because of your sexual relationships with men. I think that’s relevant to your larger identity”

Evelyn listens to me and considers my words. Then she shakes her head. “No, I lost the woman I loved because I cared about being famous as much as I cared about her. It had nothing to do with my sexuality.”

“But you were using your sexuality to get the things from men that Celia couldn’t give you.”

Evelyn shakes her head even more emphatically. “There’s a difference between sexuality and sex. I used sex to get what I wanted. Sex is just an act. Sexuality is a sincere expression of desire and pleasure. That I always kept for Celia.” (pp. 270-271)

What I love about this book isn’t the scandal or the drama: I love how honest Evelyn is about her identity, and how realistic her identity is portrayed. As a person who identifies as bisexual, I found it extremely easy to relate to Evelyn, especially when she talked about her identity. Bisexual representation– just like most queer representation– is extremely lacking, so I was overjoyed to see such fantastic LGBTQ+ characters in The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo.

 

Conflict Breeds Catastrophe – A Summary and Review of Captain America: Civil War

DISCLAIMER: SPOILERS

Recently I rewatched Captain America: Civil War in preparation for the next Black Panther movie coming out this weekend, since Black Panther (a.k.a. T’Challa) made his first appearance in the MCU (the Marvel Cinematic Universe) in Civil War. Yet, I had trouble focusing on Black Panther and couldn’t help becoming frustrated by the actions of Captain America (a.k.a. Steve Rogers) in this movie, and how Iron Man (a.k.a. Tony Stark) was posed as the antagonist.

But first, some background. It’s the evening of December 16th, 1991. Howard and Maria Stark, Tony Stark’s parents, are killed by the Winter Soldier, a.k.a. James “Bucky” Barnes. Barnes was Rogers’ best friend, and they both fought together in WWII. Then, as Rogers was careening a ship carrying the Tesseract into the Arctic, Barnes (who was presumed dead) was being ‘saved’ by HYDRA, a terrorist organization based in Russia. HYDRA then brainwashed Barnes and turned him into the Winter Soldier.

Now we skip ahead by a few years later to 1995. Captain Marvel (a.k.a. Carol Danvers) meets Nick Fury (director of SHIELD: Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement, and Logistics Division). After a crazy adventure, Danvers inspired Fury to create “The Avengers Initiative,” a team of heroes who would protect Earth from intergalactic threats.

Finally, skip ahead a few more years and a few more battles later, and we arrive to when Captain America: Civil War takes place. Tony Stark and Steve Rogers are the main two members of the Avengers, which has outlasted SHEILD and has protected Earth from a trickster God, a horde of Aliens, terrorists, and an artificial intelligence takeover. Yet, “Earth’s Mightiest Heroes” are far from perfect. They have caused mass destruction at every turn during their fights in many significant locations, including New York, N.Y., Washington, D.C., Sokovia (a made-up European country in the MCU), and Lagos, Nigeria.

To make up for their arrogance and mass destruction, the United Nations has created a document for the Avengers to sign: The Sokovia Accords, which has been approved by 117 countries. The document states that the Avengers will now operate under the supervision of the United Nations panel and will only help fight against global threats when the panel allows them to.

Disagreements over the Accords within the Avengers is what starts the Civil War. Rogers, Falcon (a.k.a. Samuel “Sam” Wilson) and Wanda Maximoff (among others) think that the Avengers should not sign the document because the panel may not allow them to help fight against a threat that the police can’t handle, and because they fear they could be sent to jail if they step out of line. On the other hand, Stark, Black Widow (a.k.a. Natasha Romanoff), War Machine (a.k.a. James Rhodes), and Vision (among others) think that the Avengers should sign the Accords. I could explain why, but instead, I’ll let Vision do it for me: “In the eight years since Tony Stark announced himself as Iron Man, the number known enhanced persons has grown exponentially. During the same period, the number of potentially world-ending events has risen at a commensurate rate… Our very strength invites challenge. Challenge incites conflict. And conflict breeds catastrophe. Oversight is not an idea that can be dismissed out of hand.” In other words, while Rogers’ team’s values lie in the freedom of the Avengers, Stark’s team’s values lie in the safety of civilians.

I still feel incredulous when I think back to when I watched Civil War for the first time and was on team Captain America, back when I was a naïve tween. I find it unbelievable that Rogers is the main character of this movie and that he is seen as the hero when he’s literally on the wrong side. How can someone who cares more about his small team of heroes more than the lives of millions of others be considered a hero?

Because of the significance of the Accords and a lack of agreement, the Avengers pick sides, and a civil war has commenced. Both sides gather back-up. During this time, Rogers learns that his old love from WWII, Peggy Carter, has died. Instead of mourning for her death properly, guess what he does? He goes and kisses Carter’s niece, Sharon. Disgusting. I know it’s not technically illegal, but it seems terribly wrong.

Alright, I’m getting bored so let’s jump ahead a bit. Blah, blah, blah, Rogers reconnects with Bucky and tries to help him… blah, blah, blah… Rogers, Wilson, and T’Challa get arrested…  blah, blah blah… ok, here we go! Bucky gets brain-washed again by the real villain of the story, Helmun Zemo. Zemo is Sokovian, and he lost his wife and children because of the mass destruction that the Avengers caused while defeating Ultron in Sokovia. Now Zemo seeks to destroy the Avengers by secretly informing Stark of the real cause of the death of his parents. He knew that if Stark found out Barnes killed his parents, Stark would seek revenge, but Rogers would protect Barnes, causing the Avengers to attack each other and destroy themselves. And Zemo was right. After a big fight between all the Avengers over the Accords, Stark eventually found out and fought Barnes and Rogers.

If you’re a casual Marvel fan, this might seem like an interesting, in-depth plot with an epic finale fight scene. But let me help you out with some perspective, just to prove how messed up this all is: not only is the fight uneven because it’s two versus one, but it’s uneven because it’s two superhuman individuals against a regular guy- albeit a genius- covered in metal.

I love Marvel, but I’ve always found that this movie is low on my list regarding the actions of its characters. The movie itself is great and is always fun to watch, but my enjoyment usually gets adulterated by the poor choices and opinions of Steve Rogers, the so-called “protagonist” of Civil War. Not only does he choose the Avengers over the United Nations, but he protects Barnes against a grieving Stark instead of figuring out that Zemo is the cause of their conflict and fighting Zemo together with Stark and Barnes. All characters are flawed, but Captain America is a role model to both Americans and civilians world-wide, who is supposed to represent classic American values. But I guess that’s the problem, isn’t it? Since when do all Americans care more about the lives of others than their own freedoms and values?

 

The Science Behind Being Trans: An IRJE for “What’s The T?” by Juno Dawson

“What’s The T?: The Guide To All Things Trans and/or Nonbinary” is a new non-fiction book about the history, science, culture, and personal stories of transgender/non-binary people. It is written by Juno Dawson, a trans woman from the UK, and the book is the sequel to her best-seller released in 2015, “This Book is Gay.” In chapter five of “What’s the T?”, Dawson dives deep into the science behind being transgender, specifically how transgender children are developed in the womb:

Okay, it gets even more science-y now: testosterone production and the conversion of some testosterone to something called dihydrotestosterone between weeks six and twelve of pregnancy are critical for the initial development of external male genitalia. In the absence of these male hormones, however, doesn’t really take place until the latter half of pregnancy, after the genitals have developed.

So you can probably predict the twist. Given that the hormonal impact on brain development happens at two stages, what if SOMETHING GOES AWRY between these two steps, leading to a mismatch between bodily sex at birth and the gender that gets wired into a brain? Boom! You have a trans baby, baby!

There is a wealth of evidence for the notion that we’re all a product of hormonal cocktails in utero. Scientist types Bao, Swaab, and Gooren, often working with a multitude of intersex people with varying conditions, point at how being exposed to too many or too few testosterone-based chemicals in the womb are likely to create this disparity–or dysphoria–between body and mind.

I suppose what they’re suggesting is that all transgender people are on the intersex spectrum, if you like. In some of us, it affected our bodies and, in others, only our brain development. (pp 98-99)

Although many people–especially straight, cis people–might not find this information that significant or interesting, to me this new knowledge is revolutionary. It’s the scientific evidence that proves that my existence as a trans person is real and valid, and that trans people aren’t just “going through a phase” or “doing it for attention”. Baby, we were born this way.

 

The Apartment Ending

This is the story of a man named Stanley. Stanley worked in a big building where he was employee #427.

 

I push these buttons,

Day in, day out,

Without rest,

Without remorse.

Everything else is forgotten,

For they are my heaven.

 

Why do I sit here,

In my cubicle,

Staring at the screen,

Waiting for my next order,

And each subsequent message,

Never letting in a free thought as leverage?

 

But what if I could leave this melancholy?

What if the whole building was desolate?

What if I could have…

A choice?

 

I could walk down the beige, carpeted hallways,

Nervous of being followed,

Tinkering with anything I want,

And going through any door I wish to explore.

I could be free of that machine

And free of being seen.

 

Except for you.

Why are you in my head?

Why are you trying to control me?

Why did you lie about her?

Who are you?

 

I simply play to my intended purpose, the same as Stanley. We’re not so different, I suppose. I’ll try once more to convey all this to him. I’m compelled to.

Returning Home: Comparing “They Shall Not Grow Old” with “All Quiet on the Western Front” and “Soldier’s Home”

Krebs, Baumer, and the real British soldiers may be different, but their challenging experiences when they returned home on leave or at the end of the war were shockingly similar. Hemingway’s Soldier’s Home, Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front, and They Shall Not Grow Old (directed by Peter Jackson) may be different genres and may have different perspectives of the war, but all three pieces of literature described what it was like for soldiers to struggle to reconnect with their ‘past life’; with their lives before the war that most of them had given up on or forgotten. Both Krebs and the British soldiers in Jackson’s movie found that nobody wanted to talk about the war when they returned home. Krebs’ mom couldn’t care less about the war, and many of the British soldiers in Jackson’s documentary mentioned how unpopular the war was as a conversation topic. Also, there was a part in They Shall Not Grow Old when a soldier described his experience of returning home and talking to the mother of one of his dead comrades to tell her about her son’s death. This scene is comparable to a part of chapter 7 of All Quiet, where Baumer returns to his home town on leave and visits Kemmerich’s mother. Although the two scenes are similar, they are both unique because Kemmerich’s mother was more in shock and refused to believe that her son was dead (she accused Baumer of lying to her), where-as the soldier in They Shall Not Grow Old found that his comrade’s mother was angry and hated that the soldier talking to her was alive, not her son. Thus, They Shall Not Grow Old is both similar and different to All Quiet on the Western Front and Soldier’s Home in regards to the WWI soldiers’ experiences with civilians when they returned home.

The Time We Spent Apart: An IRJE for Five Little Indians by Michelle Good

Five Little Indians is a fictional novel by Michelle Good, an Indigenous author. The novel is a story about five Indigenous young adults- Kenny, Lucy, Clara, Maisie, and Howie- who have left or completed Residential School and are trying to adjust to the real world. Kenny escaped from the Mission (the book’s name for the Residential School that all five children attended) by boat a few years before he was scheduled to leave and was able to find his mother. Although the mother and son were ecstatic to finally reunite after being apart for so long, after a couple of months Kenny started to notice that his mother, Bella, had changed over the years while Kenny was away:

Bella started spending less time at the smokehouse, more time at the kitchen table, smoking and gazing out the window. Sometimes she wouldn’t even hear Kenny when he came in from a day on wandering. He would slip into the chair beside her and marvel at the two-inch ash at the end of her smoke.

“Mom?” Kenny said, moving the tray under her precarious ash.

“What’s wrong, Mom?”

Her eyes looked as though she was rising from some perilous place deep inside her. “Oh, don’t worry boy. Everything’s okay.” She stubbed the already-dead cigarette in the ashtray and instinctively wiped her hands on her apron. “Are you ready for lunch?”

“Mom, it’s suppertime.”

His mother looked out the window at the changing afternoon light. “Well, so it is. Go wash up. I’ll cook.” (pp.23-24)

Just like Kenny had changed during his time at the Mission, his mother had changed as well. While her child was being stripped of his culture, identity, and freedom, she was suffering from the sudden loss of her son and was coping with her sorrow through cigarettes (and alcohol). Before I’d started reading Five Little Indians, all I really knew about Residential Schools was what the children had went though at the ‘schools’. I’d never taken the time to consider what the parents of those children must have gone though as well- having your child taken from you without your consent or without you knowing what was going to happen to them must have been terrifying and heartbreaking.

 

A Love-Hate Relationship: Comparing the Lives of Paul Baumer and Harold Krebs

What defines a soldier? Is it based on his rank, where he fought, whether he followed orders, when he lived and died… or is it as simple as what side he fought on? Ernest Hemingway and Erich Maria Remarque dive deeper – beyond general facts like sides and dates – into the perspectives of soldiers in World War I in their respective stories: Soldier’s Home (1925) by Hemingway, which describes the post-war life of Harold Krebs, and All Quiet on the Western Front by Remarque, who writes of Paul Baumer’s experience of returning home on leave during the war in chapter seven. Although the two soldiers had different experiences of the war and had different families, both Baumer and Krebs didn’t like talking about the war, and developed troubling relationships with their parents because of how their experiences in the war changed them.

One of the most significant differences between Baumer and Krebs was the difference of their memories of war. In Soldier’s Home, Hemingway wrote of Krebs’ hatred to talk about the war: “Krebs found that to be listened to at all he had to lie and after he had done this twice he, too, had a reaction against the war and against talking about it. A distaste for everything that had happened to him in the war set in because of the lies he told… the times so long back when he had done the one thing, the only thing for a man to do, easily and naturally…now lost their cool, valuable quality and then were lost themselves,” (p.1). Krebs hated talking with others about the war because he had to lie and pretend that the war had terrified him like it seemed to terrify all the other soldiers, when in reality he actually enjoyed fighting and enjoyed how natural it felt. On the other hand, while Baumer was on leave in chapter seven of All Quiet on the Western Front, Baumer thought about how difficult it was for him to talk about the war: “He (Baumer’s father) wants me to tell him about the front; he is curious in a way I find stupid and distressing…I realize he does not know that a man cannot talk of such things… I am afraid they might become gigantic, and I be no longer able to master them. After I have been startled a couple times in the street by the screaming of the tramcars, which resembles the shriek of a shell coming straight for one, someone taps me on the shoulder,” (p. 165). Unlike Krebs, Baumer disliked talking about the war because of the emotional damage it had caused him, to the point where he had post-traumatic stress disorder. Thus, although both Krebs and Baumer despised talking about the war, they had opposite reasons; Baumer refused to talk about the war because of how terrible it was, where-as Krebs didn’t want to talk because he enjoyed the war and hated that he had to lie and conform to being a sad and terrified soldier like everyone else.

Moreover, Krebs and Baumer were also similar because they both had troubling relationships with their parents due to their antipathy to talking about the war. Both Krebs and Baumer stopped talking to their fathers because of mutual differences, and both soldiers had dreadful relationships with their mothers. When Krebs returned home he had a difficult conversation with his mother, where she asked him, “‘Don’t you love your mother boy?’ ‘No,’ Krebs said. His mother looked at him across the table… She started crying. ‘I don’t love anybody,’ Krebs said…It was silly to have said it. He had only hurt her… ‘I didn’t mean it,’ he said. ‘I was just angry at something. I didn’t mean I didn’t love you,’” (p.6). Krebs felt so distant from his mother because of how he changed during the war that he couldn’t even truthfully tell her that he loved her, regardless of how much she cared for him. Baumer felt the same distance from his mother when he went on leave: “How destitute she lies there in her bed, she that loves me more than all the world. As I am about to leave, she says hastily: ‘I have two pairs of underpants for you. They are all wool… You must not forget to put them in your pack.’ Ah! Mother! I know what these underpants have cost you in waiting, and walking, and begging… Who else is there that has any claim on me but you? Here I sit and there you are lying; we have so much to say, and we shall never say it,” (p.185). Even though Baumer wanted to be close to his mother like he once was, he knew he couldn’t because his mother still saw him as her child- a child that needed protecting and extra underwear- and because she could’ve never empathized with what he went through during the war.

Baumer and Krebs may have been on different sides of the war, but what really set them apart was their memories of the war; Krebs loved the war because he got to follow his natural instincts without consequence, and Paul hated it because it traumatized him as he did everything in his power to stay alive on the front lines, while at the same time watching his friends die one by one. Yet even though their memories were different, both of their experiences of the war changed them beyond repair, to the point that their own mothers, who birthed and raised them, could no longer empathize with their sons’ struggles.

 

 

 

You Don’t Know What It’s Like: A Personal Response to “All Quiet on the Western Front”

Despite its inevitably heart-breaking ending, Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front is an incredible novel because it can help anyone understand and empathize with soldiers fighting in World War I. World war is something none of us in the MYP5 class have experienced first-hand. And yet, Remarque was able to describe Germany’s perspective of WWI with everyday intricacies and gave his characters distinctly heterogenous personalities, so that anyone could connect to this book, including me: a fifteen-year-old who spends his weekends watching YouTube and has never even slept in a tent. For example, I found that I could empathize with Paul and his experiences when he returned home during his leave in chapter seven.

In chapter seven, Paul returns to his childhood town, Dolbenberg, for a few weeks. He reconnects with his sick mother and his sister and attempts to connect with his father and his old schoolteachers, but Paul finds it difficult to converse with them. They ask him invasive questions and make bold claims about the war. Specifically, when Paul’s old head-master tells Paul how he would win the war by using offensive force, Paul responds, “…that in our opinion a break-through may not be possible. The enemy may have too many reserves. Besides, the war may be rather different from what people think. He dismisses the idea and informs me I know nothing about it. ‘The details yes,’ says he, ‘but this relates to the whole…You see only your little sector and so cannot have any general survey,’” (p. 167). Not only is the head-master not listening to Paul, but he’s dismissing what Paul is saying- even though Paul has fought in the war for years, where-as the head-master has merely heard about the war from others and the newspapers.

Moreover, when Paul first sat down with his teachers at the bar, he thought, “And they are all so dripping with good will that it is impossible to object. All the same I feel annoyed and smoke like a chimney as hard as I can,” (p. 166). Even though he knows the men appreciate the soldiers and have good intentions, their assumptions irritate Paul. They can’t comprehend what war is like first-hand, and so they assume that their hardships are worse than their soldiers’. For example, Paul’s old German-master said to him, “…And after all, you do at least get decent food out there, I hear. You look well, Paul, and fit. Naturally it’s worse here. Naturally,” (p.166). How can they think that living in your home is worse than fighting for your life in harsh conditions, merely because those fighting for their lives may be getting slightly more food than you? Even though over a century and two world wars have passed, one characteristic of humanity may never change: a lack of empathy of others. In our modern-day society, I’ve found that male privilege is a prime example of this harsh reality.

Male privilege has a significant impact on my life, especially since I’ve experienced both sides of the coin. I’ve experienced what it’s like to not be respected by others because of my gender before I came out as trans, and I’ve gained my own male privilege through my social transition. Yet, in both cases I’ve had others try to educate me on subjects I’m more knowledgeable about then they are, whether it be stereotypically male interests (like sports or video games) or the LGBTQ+ community (and their unwavering opinions about my gender identity). Thus, I found it effortless to empathize with Paul as his old teachers told him he didn’t understand the war, regardless of his time fighting on the front lines, because in the past I’ve conversed with people who have had similar fallacious and ignorant assumptions about my own knowledge and experiences.

 

About Me

Hello! My name is Arlo and I was born in Ottawa, Ontario. I am a military brat so I’ve moved around throughout my childhood and have lived in three different countries: Canada, America, and Germany. I enjoy skateboarding, drumming, and reading sci-fi and fantasy books.

This school year I hope to take strategic, to-the-point notes in English class and to volunteer original and helpful commentary during group discussions.