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Archive for October 14, 2010

Cold Steel

Cold Steel

Undoubtedly, she’d appreciate it. Surely, she’d thank him for it later. His eyes were a tragic symphony waiting to pronounce a melancholy medley to the dark, silent night that was his car. His knuckles turned white as his hands gripped the steering wheel like a vice. His body felt numb and he didn’t even feel the first stream of tears quickly slide down his cold, steel cheek. He felt like a robot. A mere machine, like the vibrator she kept under their bed that she used to abstain from sex with him. His heart had been ripped from his hollow, tin chest and been held in her fake nailed fingers. Her nails had been painted blue that night. An ice cold blue, his heart was undoubtedly frozen.

With each passing light post, he wanted to steer his car into its cold steel. Undoubtedly, she’d appreciate it. Surely, she’d thank him for it. This way she could receive his life insurance instead of a divorce court finding her guilty and leaving her with nothing. He didn’t want to leave her with nothing. He wanted to give her everything. Everything she had ever desired, he put into motion. He loved her more than he ever loved anything, more than his children, more than himself.

He envisioned his SUV topping out at 110 and running straight into the shimmering beacon of light, the warm flame that had been extinguished months before. In the white strobe lights, he heard her laughter. They had found each other in the stroboscope, searchlights bringing two lost souls together, forming an everlasting bond, or so he thought.

Now the lingering image of strobe lights wasn’t the night two young hearts set out on a great journey of lust and love. It was her laughter, her high pitched squeal, the one he had fallen in love with, but he wasn’t on the receiving end. He wasn’t supposed to be hearing these squeals. They were more intense and much more inebriated than the squeals he heard when he had first found her among the strobe lights. The strobe lights he found her in tonight were painted in light blue, shaded in a dark chill. The air was cold, but her clear complexion unfroze the solid, raw tunes.

The sight of her inebriation and the man holding her with a drink in his other hand, made him feel nauseous. Shock began to set in and he became idle. He couldn’t move, he couldn’t speak, all he felt was a sudden cold rush over his skin causing outstanding goosebumps. Standing on the dance floor, idly watching them near the bar, he was nothing more than a mere trophy. A gold plated metal trophy, a man she had conquered, readily pursuing her next quest.

Her dark hair slowly falling over her face, she puckered her lips seductively just as she used to do before they made love, now over a month and a half ago. He couldn’t stand to watch her in the dim light any longer. He quickly walked from the bar and climbed into his SUV. In no time he was speeding on the highway back toward home, back to their two sleeping children.

Their boys whined a little as they hugged their mother good bye, asking where she was going so late at night. She lied and said she was going to her office to pick up a file. This was a good enough excuse for them and they were able to sleep afterwards. He couldn’t look past her lies and followed her to the bar where he conclusively found that she had been lying to him for weeks.

He began to fear nothing, not even death, as he pushed down harder on the accelerator. Actually, he prayed that he would soon hit something, feeling the cold, hard steel of the car crush into him, paralyzing his body. Then she’d be sorry. She’d feel the guilt that she had coming. But he was never any good at revenge, especially to her. He could never rebel against her for it was she that wore the pants; it was she that had made him a eunuch. Even so, he had a devotion for the pity she had for him.

Still, he pulled into their long, curving driveway and parked his blue SUV in the place where her convertible usually sat, now sitting in VIP parking at the bar on Fifth and Main. Checking upon their two silently sleeping boys, he walked down the hallway, a castle corridor paved and lined in cold hard stone. Slipping under the chilling sheets of calignosity and infidelity, he felt like he was lying on the cold, steal of an operating table. He silently cried into his already wet pillow, rolled over, reached for her, only to grasp nothing.

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Elevator

Elevator

The elevator car in the thirty-nine story American Family Health Policy building at 28 State St. in downtown Boston was falling so fast that, to Patty Herne, it felt like her life flashed before her eyes, as did it for the four other passengers in the car. The elevator light dimmed and the furious sound of the car scrapping against its break pads and the screams of the other passengers, terrified Patricia. Her heart raced and she soon blacked out from the fear.

It had been a rough day at work for Patty that day. Her assistant Tara Marksey had left for maternity leave just a week prior and Patty was just getting used to answering her own phone. She almost felt like her own assistant when she answered the phone, “Patricia Herne’s office.”

Tara was a good assistant. She worked for Patty up until she was unable to fit into her car to drive to work and trudge to the elevator on the ground floor and take it to the thirty-third floor where her desk sat outside Patty’s office. Her computer skills were excellent and she always kept her work place immaculate. She was especially good on the phone with customers, always wishing them a “good afternoon”, “good evening”, or even “good night,” when Patty forced her to work late into the night.

Patty always appreciated how Tara took on the role to bring her coffee every morning without Patty having to even ask. Late one afternoon in the break room, Patty was fixing herself a cup of coffee when Tara entered. “Coffee at three p.m., Patty?”

“Ah yes. I can drink coffee at all hours of the day,” Patty responded.

Tara conspicuously watched her dump two packets of Splenda and a small pack of Half and Half into her coffee. Stirring it, as she raised it to her lips to first blow on it and then to sip it, Patty lowered the mug and saw Tara staring at her with her twenty –four-year-old-clear complexion and high cheekbones, she really was a gorgeous girl.

“Sorry,” Tara said, quickly looking away and grabbing a bagel.

“Plus the caffeine helps me stay awake,” Patty told her. “I have such trouble getting any sleep at night.”

“Insomnia?” Tara questioned, interested.

“No. My husband.”

“Your husband?”

“You’re married, right Tara?” Patty inquired.

“Yes, three years. Mark and I are trying to get pregnant.”

“Well as long as that doesn’t keep you from being my assistant, I’m happy for you.”

Laughing, Tara tore her bagel in half. Patty placed the mug on the white counter and said, “I’d hate to lose a perfectly good assistant. Good hired help is hard to find.”

Still giggling, Tara responded, “Mark and I are looking for a house to rent out, or possibly buy.”

Patty smiled, picked up her coffee, and as she left the break room, she said under her breath, “Well at least one of us is happy.”

From that afternoon on, every morning, Tara arrived five minutes before nine and made Patty a coffee to give to her. The first few days it was a pleasant surprise, but as days turned into weeks and weeks into months, Patty grew to expect it. Patty had arrived everyday the previous week to no hot coffee awaiting her at Tara’s desk. She was forced to walk to the break room passed her boss’s office.

Andrew Tillman was one of the head employees at American Family, and had been since his promotion to Head Claims Adjuster fourteen years prior. As head honcho, he had the power to do almost anything from the thirty-third floor up. He even promoted as he pleased, for a price of course. When he promoted Charles Jones to Underwriting Manager, it was Charles’s brand new Mercedes-Benz Kompressor that he set his sights on. For the chance to make a possible six figures, Charles reluctantly agreed to the deal, handing over the keys and the title to his Mercedes and Andrew handing over the promotion. When he spotted Jeffrey Wood’s assistant Kevin Rachlin drunk, making out with a man in the bathroom of the Cheao Bar on the corner of West High Street and McRenolds Avenue, he urged Jeffrey to demote Rachlin to a position where he wouldn’t have to deal with as many customers so he wouldn’t scare them off with his “sporadic bouts of homosexuality.” Jeffrey, not wanting to upset the almighty Andrew Tillman, demoted Kevin to a less high profile job as mail carrier.

But when Andrew saw Patricia Herne for the first time, he set his sights even higher. The lonely desk job she was keeping on the thirty eighth floor surely wasn’t enough for a woman that looked like Patty. Even in her mid thirties, Patty was a ten. Andrew began to come up to the thirty eighth floor on a daily basis to personally talk, get her insights on the company, and flirt with Patty. After a few weeks, he made her a very generous offer. He invited her to dinner one Wednesday evening to discuss a possible promotion in his department on the thirty third floor. At dinner, Patty had a little too much Peach Chardonnay and to Andrew’s surprise flirted back tremendously. It was there that she reluctantly agreed to go back to Andrew’s apartment where they could discuss the position in full.

The next day, Patty was cleaning out her desk to move it to her new office on the thirty-third floor, as she flipped open her cell phone and read that she had fourteen missed calls along with three new voicemails. As Patty took the elevator from the thirty-ninth to the thirty-third floor, each voicemail from her husband Derrick, asking where she was and why she hadn’t made it home yet, made her stomach wrench with more and more guilt.

Putting her things in her new desk, Patty bent down to slide some plain, white sheets of paper into the bottom drawer. She felt something slide against her posterior. She quickly straightened and felt Andrew’s hands slide around her waist.

“Like your new office, don’t you?” He said.

“Yes Mr. Tillman. Thank you so much for this chance,” Patty responded, his hands still around her.

“I knew you would. And please don’t call me Mr. Tillman. Call me Andrew. You’ve certainly earned it.” He slid his hands off of her and began to walk toward the door, laughing loudly. Just before leaving her office door way, he put his finger to his mouth and shook his head, giving her one quick wink before strolling out into the hallway.

From this day on, Andrew very conspicuously continued his sexual harassment of Patty. Nearly two and a half years later, Patty knew her job well and knew she wouldn’t be fired from the position of assistant Risk Analyst. She was directly under Andrew. But still his sexual advances came and all Patty could do was grit her teeth, bare it, and try to avoid seeing Andrew as much as possible. She’d leave for a nearby restaurant during lunch, make sure Andrew was in his office when she needed to use the restroom, and at times she’d even poke her head out her doorway to see if he was anywhere in the vicinity. But since Tara’s absence she had to walk passed his office everyday to the break room to get her coffee for the little bit of caffeine it contained. For ever since that fateful night that she cheated on Derrick for a job where her boss sexually assaulted her on a daily basis, they were never the same. They separated about two months prior, but Derrick felt they could work it out and moved back in. Since then, almost every night they fought and she would cry herself to sleep. Patty needed her caffeine.

Almost a week and a half since Tara’s leave, that day, Patty built up the last bit of courage she had and crossed in front of Andrew’s office door. Today, he came to her, not with his arms outstretched, but with a large stack of papers and manila folders.

“Please come in, Patricia,” he said closing his office door behind him. Handing her the large stack, he said, “Here, here are today’s analyses, get started on them right away.” Patty took the stack and as he turned around to go back to his desk. She gritted her teeth and waited for his advancement. “That’s all today, Patricia. You may go.”

Patty turned, breathed a sigh of relief, and put her hand to the door knob when Andrew said, “Wait. There is one more thing.” As Patty turned around she was struck hard on her cheek, the papers and folders flew from her hands. Her knees and her hands hit the floor, as her cheek seared with heat. Blurry eyed, she looked up from the fallen papers on the floor.

“I was outside the break room today and I heard two women conversing. I don’t know who they were, but they were talking about us. Yes, you and I, Patricia. They said something about sexual harassment. Have you been telling people, Patricia?” Patty shook her head. “Do you think I sexually harass you?” Patty continued shaking her head. “Good. Now pick those up. Oh and watch your mascara. Don’t get it on the analyses.”

Patty turned and left his office, her head to the ground. Back in her own office, she checked her compact and cleared her face, reapplying mascara and her smeared lipstick. The rest of the day, Patty answered her own phone, did her own work, and conversed with no one. At five o’clock she had her coat on and she grabbed her briefcase as she walked to the elevators. She pressed the down button and a few seconds later the elevator doors opened and she stepped into the vacant car. On her trip down the thirty three floors, she was stopped at floor twenty eight where a man in his early forties, dressed in a suit, and a briefcase at hand, stepped on. Patty wasn’t quite sure but when he entered, the car seemed to fill with the potent smell of alcohol.

Gary Cross had always liked the feeling that alcohol gave him when he came home from his long hours at the office. The twenty eighth floor was a mass load of insurance agents and one financial consultant. Gary happened to work in the office of that one financial consultant. He had become a financial consultant fresh out of college, receiving his bachelors in Business Finances from Florida State. His hometown, however, was Boston and he liked that. So Gary returned to Boston with a job offer from Bank One.

After two and half years at the low stress position at Bank One, Gary weaned from his college days of drinking heavily. It was at Bank One that he ran into Michelle Garson, his future ex wife. Michelle had a high profile job as an attorney for Mac and Mac, one of Boston’s most prestigious firms. Having graduated from Harvard Law, Michelle was used to being at the top. When her rich tycoon uncle died, he left a large sum of money to his favorite niece and being brainy, sophisticated, and now loaded with cash, Michelle got into Law School at Harvard.

Michelle was doing a bit of banking on the first floor when she dropped her briefcase and Gary was quick to retrieve it. Giving it back to her, Gary embarked on a love that would ultimately end in their divorce.  He asked her for a date and they dated for nearly eleven months when Gary asked Michelle to be his wife. She giddily accepted and they were married four months later.  But as Michelle’s job became stressful, Gary began to see that her absence in his life was hurting their marriage. After a few months into their marriage, Michelle had been working late almost every night with a handsome colleague, Seth Tillman.  Seth was use to getting everything he always asked for, he being so handsome, debonair, and well off, just like his father Andrew. He was soon to make partner in the firm and even Michelle knew that. Michelle and Seth’s relationship had always stayed professional, that is until Michelle married Gary.  Seth loved challenges and was readily going to accept the one of swooning Michelle Garson into an affair. Therefore when Alex Mac, one of the heads of firm, asked who wanted to work the Wyler case with Michelle, Seth speedily volunteered.

Michelle knew that Seth liked her and even though she did find him very attractive, there was nothing that could make her cheat on Gary. She felt there love was too strong. Seth may try but he wasn’t going to get anywhere if Michelle had anything to do with it. But nothing could calm Gary’s worries. No matter how much Michelle reassured him of how solid they were, Gary couldn’t help but let his insecurities override it.

Michelle became stressed and fatigued very easily at home so her and Gary’s sex life began to lose action. Gary felt there to be no other explanation than her infidelity. It couldn’t be the fact that she was stressed and overworked at the firm, both on the Wyler case and trying to fight off Seth’s rather constant flirts and sexual innuendos. Not only that, but when Michelle came home she was accused of cheating.

Nearly three months into the Wyler case, Gary became so upset with his marriage that he picked up on old habits. He worked from eight until four p.m. at Bank One, knew Michelle wouldn’t be home for hours, opened up a twelve pack of beer and chugged one after another until he passed out. He would usually awaken around seven a.m., a half an hour after Michelle had already left for the firm.

The first night, arriving home around eleven p.m., Michelle was shocked to see Gary passed out in one of their leather reclining chairs, empty beer cans at his feet. She tried to wake him, but he just mumbled something and turned on his side. After an entire week of coming home to her husband passed out in the leather recliner, she became used to it.

After a month of sleeping alone in her king size bed while her husband was passed out downstairs, Michelle knew they needed help. That Sunday, Gary and Michelle tried to talk their marriage out. Michelle stayed calm as Gary ranted and raved, telling her he wasn’t good enough for her. The next day, he asked for a divorce. Michelle was horrified and didn’t even go into work the following day so she could stay home to talk to Gary before things were too late. He was too set in his ways to be swayed into reconsidering and filed for divorce the next Friday. Their divorce was final a month and a half later.

Gary was very interested to see that Seth made partner in the firm two months after their divorce. Seven months after that, he read that he and Michelle got engaged. This newspaper became covered in spilt beer and cigarette ashes.

Later on that same year, Gary became bored with his life and felt to be nothing more than mediocre. He was average. Gary didn’t like the word average. The head accountant at Bank One, Jared Tessler, was actually leaving after seventeen years. His wife Hillary recently had a stroke and he felt that it was his time to retire. Gary’s CO, Anthony Fink was in charge of deciding who would take Jared’s job. Gary hurriedly applied for the job, but when Anthony announced that Maria Valerie would be taking over as head accountant, Gary drank heavily that night. He got so drunk that when he hopped in his Trailblazer, he couldn’t even find where to put the keys. After a five minute struggle of trying to find the ignition, Gary pulled out of his suburban home and drove to the Van dam Marta near by. He parked his car incorrectly in the closest parking lot, walked to the edge of the dam, hopped over the railing and recklessly cried out his final good byes to the world.

It was nearly eight thirty p.m. and dusk had slightly fallen on Boston. Mae Shavet was in the middle of her nightly run when she spotted Gary proclaiming his goodbyes to the world.

“What are you doing?” Mae demanded.

“And to you, Michelle, I hope you’re merrily happy with your new husband, Seth!” Gary yelled out even louder.

“Hey you! What the hell are you doing?” Mae said as she ran up toward the dam.

“Who? Me?” Gary asked, looking at her as she ran.

Finally reaching Gary, Mae said, “C’mon give me your hand.”

“What? No!”

“Give me your God damn hand. You are being ridiculous.”

“How am I ridiculous?” Gary demanded to know, his speech a bit slurred.

“Well for one, you’re thinking of killing yourself-“

“No I’m not! I’m just telling Michelle that I hope she’s happy.”

“And two, you’re about to throw yourself down a grassy hill. That won’t kill you. You’ll just end up breaking a few rib, an arm, and maybe a leg. You’ll just end up in worse condition than you are now.” Mae told him. “Now give me your hand.” Gary gave her his hand and she helped him climb back over the railing. “Wow. You’re an easy drunk to convince.”

“I’m not drunk!”

“Where’s your car?”

“I- eh … over there some place,” Gary said pointing down the hill.

“It’s not this silver Trail Blazer over here?”

“It’s not silver. It’s Gray- oh yeah, that’s the one.”

Mae proceeded to help him to his car, where she decided, he was too inebriated to drive home. She helped him into the passenger seat and tried her best to navigate her way back to his house with his intoxicated directions. She helped him to his door, got it unlocked and was ready to run back to the dam. Gary yelled to her a quick thank you, stumbling in the door, he fell into the recliner and drifted to sleep.

By a random chance of fate, Gary ran into Mae at a park a few days later. He wasn’t sure if it was her or not but when he spotted her looking at him, he waved and she waved back. The two talked for a little bit and he asked her for a date. Mae was unsure at first but consented to the handsome stranger’s good looks. Mae enjoyed the first date so much that she had to go on a second, a third, a fourth, a fifth, until a whole two years went by. They married and Gary was finally happy with Mae. She became pregnant and Gary made the suggestion that she quit her job at Beethoven, a musical instrument store on Thruston St and become a stay at home mom. She did and they gave birth to a bouncing baby boy.

Six years later, Gary was offered the financial consultant position at American Family. He left Bank One and set up his office on the twenty-eighth floor. The job was both frustrating and tiresome, working with nothing but insurance agents all day, he felt like a stag alone in a blazing fire. He picked up his habit yet again, and this time it stuck. He even brought little flasks of vodka to work with him everyday.

At home, things took a turn for the worst. Jeremy was eight years old and had said a smart mouth comment to Mae while at the dinner table because she wouldn’t let him go out with his friends after he finished eating. Gary, stressed after a long day at the office, wasn’t in the mood and smacked Jeremy across the mouth. Jeremy was shocked as was Mae. Jeremy got up and ran to his bedroom, crying. Mae didn’t say a word as she stood to clear the plates. She had no idea what to say to her husband’s actions so she just ignored it.

This broke a dam of fiery rage upon the meek family.  Gary drank more heavily and began to hit Jeremy more and more each day.  When Mae tried to intervene one evening, Gary hit Mae, bloodying her nose.

Now, six months since his initial abuse toward his family began, Patty could smell the stench of alcohol upon him. He stood beside her as the elevator doors closed. The car lowered another four stories, stopping at twenty-four.

Emily Nelson and Travis Hoite stepped into the car. To Patty, it seemed that they were something of an item, Emily laughing and nonchalantly flirting with Travis. Gary was oblivious to his surroundings as he was nearly drunk and could barely keep his head from bobbing.

Emily and Travis were the first couple ever to stay together for more than a few months in the Marketing sector of American Family. It being a high maintenance, high stress career, various other co workers courageously tried to go against the odds and try something a little more than professional only to end it horribly and on bad terms.

Marketing had always come easily to Travis Hoite. He graduated from UM with a bachelors in Marketing and Auto Claims. When he received his job as Claims Adjuster fresh out of college, he was determined to make a career out of American Family. After good work ethic and punctual behavior, not just to the office but with his work, Travis was promoted to Marketing Rep just three months in.

One Sunday evening, before the Superbowl, Travis ran to the grocery to pick up a few snacks for his Superbowl party that night. Grabbing a bag of Tostitos, he noticed a woman about his age, trying to jump and reach a bag of low fat Baked Doritos on the top shelf. Finally jumping high enough and retrieving the bag, a good row and a half of chips fell when she slightly hit the shelf coming down. Travis moved quickly to make sure she was alright.

“Are you okay?” Travis asked her, walking over.

“Yes, thanks. Just a klutz,” Emily responded pushing back some hair that had fallen onto her face. On the loud speaker came a woman’s voice, “Clean up in Aisle four. Clean up in Aisle four.”

“Oh shit.” Emily said.

“Yeah.”

“C’mon lets get out of here.”

Laughing, Travis asked, “What?” She grabbed Travis’s arm and the two scurried out of Aisle four.

“Ah … I’m Emily.”

“Travis,” he said smiling. Noticing the Falcons jersey she was wearing, he commented, “You know the Falcons are really going to suck tonight.

“What? You’re a Rams fan?”

“Of course. I mean, who isn’t?” Travis said, laughing a bit.

“Me and my girlfriends.”

“Who?”

“A bunch of my girls and I are getting together for a Superbowl party. I’m hosting!”

“That’s so funny. A couple of my co workers are coming over for a little get together during the game. Gonna have some chips, and a little salsa.”

“Ahhh … spice it up,” Emily said smiling.

“Yeah, plus a little Bud Light,” Travis said, grabbing a twenty-four pack.

“And a little Green Apple Smirnoff for us ladies.”

“You know, we join our parties into one, we’d have one-“

“Huge fight as the Falcons took on the Rams,” Emily stated, cutting him off. “But I’d love to have a little party, just you and I.”

“Oh, yeah?”

Emily nodded her head, flirtatiously.

“Well I think that could be arranged.” Emily went through her purse and pulled out a card. “Here’s my business card, we’re printing professional ones in school. My numbers on the back. Give me a call soon.” And he did. Travis called Emily more than just once and they became quite an item.

A year and a half later, with no movement in the company ladder, Travis anticipated a promotion soon. The position as Marketing and Sales Manager was soon available and Travis applied for the position. Emily had just received her masters in Business Administration and Management and applied for the position as well, not knowing that Travis had applied for the same position.

As it turned out, Emily was handed the job and Travis was forced to keep his job as Marketing Rep. Travis and Emily’s relationship took a strain, for Emily was Travis’s new boss. After nineteen months of being with Travis and only Travis, Emily was ready for a commitment, but Travis continued to drag his feet. Emily became tired and sick of anticipation for Travis to make up his mind about her. She loved him and this she knew. Travis knew he loved her but still wasn’t sure how comfortable he was with his girlfriend, let alone his wife being his boss.

But as the elevator doors closed behind them they grew quiet because of the seriousness that was the atmosphere of the elevator car. Emily smiled at Patty and Patty smiled back weakly. On the twenty-second floor, the doors opened again but no one was standing there. Gary impatiently pushed the door close button when all of a sudden, Sophie Radders, jumped between the doors, her briefcase on wheels trailing behind her.

“Oh my. I’m sorry about that. I didn’t hear the doors open.” Sophie a plump woman was what some people called an extrovert. She giggled as the doors closed behind her. “How is everyone this evening?”

There was silence until Travis spoke, “Doing fine. And you?”

“Oh just peachy. Just a peach. Oh! Have you all smelled the new peach body spray from Bath and Body Works?” Sophie said reaching into her purse, “It’s just to die for.” Pulling it out, she sprayed it into the air two times, stood on her tip toes and sniffed. “Mmmm … just like a ripe summer’s peach, eh?”

“Yes,” Emily replied, a bit annoyed.

Sophie Radders held the job of Head Risk Analyst at American Family. Her job had its days of high stress where she had to take charge and lead her coworkers. Sophie wasn’t afraid. She was one of those people whose motto was “Carpe Diem.” She lived everyday to its fullest potential and never had any regrets about her actions, mainly because she would never have hurt a fly.

Sophie was, however, a bit naïve and she unknowingly let people walk all over her. She was oblivious, for she was lost in the happy serenade she was singing in her head.

That was when the screeching from outside the car started. The floor numbers began to speed up, rapidly dropping. They were panicked no one said anything as the Elevator lights began to flicker. The jolting of the car made Emily fall but Travis was quick to catch her.

Then, as abruptly as it had begun, the speeding elevator came to a violent stop when a safety brake kicked in, but not until the elevator had plummeted twelve stories. It sent both Patty and Gary sprawling to the floor. Then there was silence. No one said anything as they waited for the elevator to drop once again. Breathing hard, Gary stood and reached out his arm to help Patty up. She grabbed it and he pulled her to her feet. With much lower back pain, she stood.

“Are you alright, dear?” Sophie asked her, putting her arm around Patty.

“Uh- yeah. I just really hurt my back when I fell.” Patty groaned.

“I think the security brake kicked in,” Travis said, looking to the still flickering light overhead. Emily quickly flicked the alarm switch and a loud bell began to ring.

“Now what do we do?” Patty said, grabbing the railing along the walls of the elevator car.

“Wait. I guess. We just wait,” Travis said, grabbing Emily’s hand.

And wait they did. They waited in the elevator car for almost forty-five minutes. There was a little to talk about as they were just five strangers trapped in a ten by five foot elevator car.

Travis said the first few words, “Almost all the time there’s an elevator accident in a building you’ve got a situation where the elevator company skimps by not having routine maintenance or replacing parts.”

“That’s ridiculous,” Patty said.

“I remember reading an article where a state inspector said that in his years as an inspector, he has found one-hundred of the ultimate braking devices on elevators that do not work,Emily said, pulling Travis a bit closer.

“That is your last resort,” said Gary. “If they fail, there is no stopping the damn car.”

“Jesus,” replied Travis.

“I know,” Emily said back.

“I suppose we were the lucky ones,” Sophie said, sitting on her briefcase on wheels.

When safety officials finally arrived, they lowered the car and helped the five frightened passengers out of it.

Patty went to the hospital and learned she pulled and even tore a few ligaments in her back. She didn’t return to work for two weeks and the day she finally came back, it was to clean out her desk and to tell Andrew right where he could stick it.

Gary took Mae’s pleads to heart and started going to AA meetings. He was going to do right by his wife even still. They started family counseling and Gary hasn’t hit his wife or his son since the accident.

Two weeks following the accident, Travis asked for Emily’s hand in marriage and they plan to marry sometime in the next year.

Sophie quit her job at American Family to become a public speaker. She gets paid to travel from high school to high school, from university to university, to pledge the importance of her motto, “Carpe Diem,” to make each and everyday count.

Contrastive Dialects: Australian English versus American English

Contrastive Dialects: Australian English versus American English

The accents of four Australian English speech consultants were analyzed both subjectively via listening and objectively according to spectographic data of all four consultants. The consultants were from four different cities in Australia, though they were all concentrated in the south east quadrant of  the continent known as New South Wales. Despite the speakers’ closeness in proximity, some dynamics of their accents, primarily the consonants  differed. Their vowels were a bit more unified though. The consultant’s speech will be analyzed on how their pronunciation differs from American English and from each other.

1.0 Australian Accent Consultants

The consultant’s speech files and biography information were retrieved from the Speech Accent Archive. http://www.accent.gmu.edu. The speakers used as consultants were English 48, English 230, English 294, and English 298. All were male except English 294. The males were ages 45, 35, and 22 respectively. The female was the youngest, age 19. All had acquired English as their native language. English 84 spoke tok pisin in addition to English. English 294 spoke Indonesian French as an L2. English 230 and 298 spoke no other languages besides English.

2.0 Consonants

2.1 Devoicing

Like most speakers of any language, decvoicing of obstruents seems to occur primarily word finally due to the sonority curve of syllables, allowing obstruents that  are syllable initial to be more sonorous than the same obstruent syllable finally. In the data, all consultants devoice, some more so than others. Right from the start, we have devoicing occurring in two of the four speakers in “Please” /pliz/, where the word final /z/ is devoiced to [s] for English 230 and 298, and again in “these” /ðiz/ of line 2, English 230 and English 298 devoice word final /z/ to [s]. In the third line, English 294 devoices /z/ to [s] in “spoons” /spunz/. All four accent consultants devoice word final /v/ to [f] in “five” /fajv/ of line 4. All four consultants also devoice final /b/ of “Bob” /bɑb/ to [p]. In line 7, English 298 devoices word final /g/ to [k] in “frog” /fɹɑg/. English 230 and English 294 both devoice the alveolar plosive /d/ in “kids” /kɪdz/ to [t], causing the normally voiced alveolar fricative /z/ to become devoiced as well. English 298 was the only accent consultant to devoice final /z/ in “things” /θiŋz/ of line 8 to [s]. All four accent consultants devoice word final /z/ to [s] in “bags” /bægz/ of line 8.

Devoicing of final obstruents is occurring with [+Dorsal] and [+Labial] obstruents. However, more often than not, it’s the word final alveolar fricatives that seem to vary most in voicing among consultants. This is probably due to English’s using the alveolar fricative to be the sound that most ends words because of its use as plural, possession, and third-person singular.

Devoicing word initially is rarer linguistically, and definitely rarer in the speech of these four Australian accent consultants. It occurs once in the word “big” /bɪg/ for English 230 and English 294, devoicing word initial /b/ to [p].

2.2 Voicing

Voicing of obstruents is rarer linguistically than devoicing them due to the low sonority rank of these sounds, however, voicing still occurred a few times with these consultants’ speech. In “five” /fajv/ of line 4, English 230 voices word initial labiodental fricative /f/ to [v].

Word medial voicing is rare unless the obstruent is intervocalic. There’s only one instance of word medial voicing with two consultants, but they both do the same thing which could constitute the word medial voicing as word initial voicing. In the phrase “six spoons” /sɪks spunz/ both English 84 and 298 delete word initial /s/ of “spoons” since “six” ends in a voiceless alveolar fricative, and instead of aspirating the now word inital /p/, both consultants voice /p/.

2.3 Flapping

Flapping in Australian English occurs in a similar context as in American English, which is between a stressed and unstressed vowels. In Australian English, it can just occur between two unstressed vowels. The first doesn’t have to be stressed. It can be, but it isn’t a necessity to allow alveolar plosive flapping. In line 2, English 84, 230, and 298 all flap /t/ in “to” /tu/ of the phrase “with her to the store” /wɪθ həɹ tu ðə stɔɹ/. Well, how can this be? It’s occuring between a retroflex liquid /ɹ/ and an unstressed syllable. Rogers (2000) states, rhotic consonants are missing entirely in Australian English pronunciation. I found data to contradict this statement, but Roger’s (2000) observance is certainly true of the rhotic consonant in “her.” More on retroflex liquid deletion can be found in section 2.4. Accent consultants English 84, English 230, and English 298 all delete the retroflex liquid /ɹ/ in “her,” causing their /t/ in “to” to become flapped. English 294 has an apparent /ɹ/ when she speaks “her,” and she doesn’t flap her /t/ in “to.” Instead, she replaces the /t/ with an alveolar nasal /n/. Nasals have an interesting way of replacing alveolar plosives and interdental fricatives in Australian English. More on this replacement in section 2.5.

Flapping occurs again in line 6 with English 230, English 294, and English 298 with the final alveolar plosive /d/ of “need” in the phrase “need a small plastic snake.” In this instance, the flapping occurs after a stressed vowel and before an unstressed syllable. This environment is likely to flap /d/ in American English. Flapping again occurs with English 298 in line 7 with the word final alveolar plosive /d/ in “and” ænd/ in the phrase “and a toy frog” /ænd ə tʰɔj fɹɑg/. The consultant deletes the alveolar nasal, placing the alveolar plosive /t/ between two unstressed vowels. The last instance of flapping that occurs is English 84 with word final alveolar plosive /t/ in “meet” /mit/ in the phrase “go meet her wenesday” /go mit həɹ wɛnzdej/ The consultant deletes the glottal fricative /h/, placing /t/ between two vowels.

2.4 Retroflex Liquid Deletion

Contrary to what Rogers (2000) states, based on the pronunciation of these four consultants’ speech, Australian English is not a totally /ɹ/-less language. The retroflex does delete in one founded primary context: in function words. The only function words that contain a /ɹ/ are “for” and “her,” which occur multiple times throughout the data. This is not a universal phenomenon though, but does happen enough to mention. In line 2, every consultant deletes the retroflex liquid /ɹ/ in “her.” In line 5, English 294 deletes /ɹ/ on “for,” but keeps the liquid when saying “her,” which in line 2, she had previously deleted in the same word. Therefore the phrase “for her” /foɹ həɹ/ sounds like [fə həɹ]. Here, English 294 keeps the voiceless glottal fricative /h/ on “her.” The other three consultants actually delete the word “her” altogether in the phrase “for her” because of the similar sequence of sounds of “for” and “her.” We often do this reduction in American English, so it is not exclusive to just Australian English. To compensate for the “her” deletion, English 84 and English 298 lengthen their vowel, which in this case is /ə/. This reveals a careful pronunciation of the phrase “for her” by English 294. Recall from section 1.0, English 294 was the only female consultant. More on this in section 6.0. English 298 also deletes the retroflex liquid in line 2 in the function word “from,” while all the consultants keep it.

Most other content words that have the liquid in American English keep the sound. Content words where all four consultants keep the liquid sound include “bring” /bɹiŋ/ in line 2, “fresh” /fɹɛʃ/ in line 3, “brother” /bɹʌðəɹ/ in line 5, “frog” /fɹɑg/ in line 7, “three” /θɹi/ and “red” /ɹɛd/ in line 8, and “train” /tɹejn/ in line 9. The one content word where all four consultants delete the retroflex liquid, leaving a rhotic vowel word finally is “store” /stɔɹ/ in line 2. This could be due to the fact that /ɹ/ is word final. In no other content word is /ɹ/ word final except “brother” in line 5. There, all four consultants delete the retroflex liquid and leave a rhotic vowel, just like in “store.”

2.5 Nasal replacements of Interdental Fricatives

The replacement of interdental fricatives with nasal consonants is not universal and does not happen in the same places with every consultant. Really, we believe it is a result of rapid speech, since it happens in areas where the speakers are being particularly careless about the pace of their speech. Much of the time, the nasal replacement seems to be an assimilation process because the word initial replacement follows a word final nasal consonant. For example, English 84 replaces voiced interdental fricative /ð/ with alveolar nasal /n/ following word final velar nasal /ŋ/ in the phrase “bring these.” /bɹiŋ ðiz/ In this case, the only element assimilating is the manner of articulation since the place of the two nasal consonants are in two different areas of the mouth. In this environment, English 294 and English 298 do not replace the interdental with anything. English 230, however, replaces /ð/ with a dental /t/. There is one instance in line 2 where all replace /ð/ with a nasal, but not all the same nasal consonant or in the same environment. In the phrase, “from the store,” /fɹʌm ðə stɔɹ/ English 294 and English 298 both replace /ð/ with an alveolar nasal: [fɹəm nə stoʷ]. English 230 replaces the fricative with an alveolar nasal too, but doesn’t leave much of a vowel following it, therefore replacing the whole word with a syllabic /n/. English 84 does something a little more predictable. He replaces the voiced interdental fricative with a bilabial nasal /m/, a total progressive assimilation process, influenced by the word final /m/ in “from.” Nasal replacement of interdental fricatives occurs nowhere else in the data.

2.6 Other Consonantal Differences

In line 2, the word “with” differs in pronunciation among consultants. English 294 and English 298 both pronounce the coda consonant as a voiced interdental fricative. This differs from American English, since it’s voiceless in American English. English 84 pronounces the coda with an American English pronunciation, cutting off the voicing when the start of the pronunciation of the fricative begins. English 230 actually replaces the fricative with an unreleased voiced alveolar plosive /d/.

All male consultants (English 84, English 230, English 298) delete /s/ when preceded by /ʃ/ in line 3 of the phrase “fresh snow peas” /fɹɛʃ snoʷ piz/. English 294 has a much more careful pronunciation of this phrase and she keeps both the alveolar fricative and the palato-alveolar fricative. English 84 and English 298 both delete the initial /s/ of “spoons” /spunz/ in the phrase “six spoons,” /siks spunz/. Because “six” ends in a final alveolar fricative, both consultants delete it initially and voice the now word initail /p/ to [b]. English 230 also deletes word initial /s/, but instead of voicing /p/, he aspirates it since it is now word initial. English 294 is the only consultant to keep both /s/ sounds.

All the male consultants again do something else that English 294 does not do, something that is common of American English speech, they do not release a plosive when it is followed by another plosive, as evidenced in the phrase “big toy frog,” /bɪg tʰɔj fɹɑg/ of line 7. English 294 is the only consultant careful enough in her pronunciation to release the word final /g/ of “big” before the word inital /t/ of “toy.

English 230 in line 7, instead of ending the word “frog” with a voiced velar plosive /g/ like the orthography entails, he ends the word with a velar nasal /ŋ/. This is very interesting since there is no plausible assimilation process to account for this change, and all the other consultants correctly pronounce the word final plosive.

In line 10 with the word “can” in the phrase “she can scoop,” all four consultants do something differently, as shown in table 1.

(1)

She can scoop” /ʃi kən skup/
English 84 [ʃik skuwp]
English 230 [ʃi kə skup]
English 294 [ʃij kən skup]
English 298 [ʃəʔ skʊp]



English 84 simply keeps the word inital /k/ and deletes the nucleus and coda, attaching the velar plosive as the coda to the normally open syllable “she:” [ʃik skuwp]. English 230 only deletes the nasal coda: [ʃi kə skup]. English 294 says it exactly how it would be in narrow transcription, a careful pronunciation. English 298 actually deletes the entire word, probably replacing the velar plosive /k/ with the glottal stop [ʔ]. Also in line 8, English 84 and English 230 both reduce the word “into” /ɪntu/ to /nə/, deleting the initial vowel, and medial plosive /t/ and reducing the rounded back vowel /u/ to unstressed /ə/.

3.0 Vowels

3.1 Vowel Raising

The examples put forth in this section are classified as vowel raising. That is, a vowel in a word of one to all four of the accent consultants is inherently higher than a Standard American English vowel in the same position of the same word. Also, there will not be separate sections for diphthongization or monothongization, they will instead be included in sections 3.1 -3.2.

English 84 produces the same vowel as American English in “store” of line 2, while English 230, English 294, and English 298 produce a higher vowel /o/, [sto]. All four consultants produce /sɪks/ as [siks]. We will classify this as a higher vowel, even though the real distinction between /i/ and /ɪ/ is tenseness. All consultants produce a higher vowel in “fresh” /fɹɛʃ/ of line 2. English 84 produces /ɪ/, [fɹɪʃ], English 230 and English 298 produce a slightly higher vowel /e/, [fɹeʃ]. English 294 diphthongizes the slightly higher /e/, [fɹejʃ]. English 230 produces /æ/ in /snæk/ as a slightly higher /ɛ/, [snɛk]. English 84 realizes an even higher, diphthongized vowel in snack: /ej/ [snejk], which sounds very much like American English “snake.” However, all four consultants produce a low/back to high/front/ diphthong /aj/ for “snake” /snek/, [snajk].

Again, in Standard American speech the lax /ɪ/ is produced as tense /i/, as exemplified by the word “kids” /kɪdz/ in line 7, [kʰits] – as pronounced by English 84, English 230, and English 294. English 298 unstresses the vowel, [kəds]. There is one other case of tense/lax difference in “scoop” /skup/ of line 8. English 298 realizes [skʊp].

3.2 Vowel Lowering

English 84 pronounces “please” /pʰliz/ in line 1 as [pʰlejz]. He lowers and diphthongizes /i/ to /ej/. A word where all consultants produce a different vowel than American English is in “bring” /bɹiŋ/ in line 2. English 84, English 294, and English 298 produce a lower vowel /ɛ/, realizing “bring” as [bɹɛŋ]. English 230 just unstresses the /ɛ/ and produces [bɹəŋ]. All four consultants produce the same vowel in “cheese” /tʃiz/ of line 4. They all produce a lower diphthongized vowel /ej/, [tʃej(s/z)].

All four consultants realize “three” /θɹij/ with a lower diphthong /ej/ [θɹej]. English 84 creates a diphthong for the word “go” /go/ in line 9. He realizes the vowel as diphthong /aʊ/ [gaʊ].

4.0 Creaky Voice

There were only three instances of creaky voice in the data. The first is by English 294 who pronounces the /ɛ/ in “stella” /stɛlə/ of line 1 with creaky voice. The other two were produced by English 230 with the vowel /a/ in “call” from line 2 and /ɑ/ in “frog” from line 7.

5.0 Limitations

The limitations of this contrastive dialect research were three-fold. The first is that not all speakers were from the same city in Australia. They were, however, from the same region, though there still seemed to be quite a bit of variation in their speech. Second is the instrument. It is a good tool for all dialects of English and for speakers with an L1 that is not English to discover pronunciation errors and differences, but now that we’ve been able to identify some of the different linguistic features between American English and Australian English, a new instrument should be created to target more of these specific differences. If this instrument were spoken by a larger group of Australian English speakers, we might be able to perform more in-depth research on specific environments where these linguistic differences occur. The third and final limitation is the American English that was used to compare. The researcher relied on his native perception of how the sounds of American English come together, a more phonemic analysis. For a truly phonetic analysis, the speech of four speakers of American English should have been recorded, transcribed,. and analyzed using the same instrument.

6.0 Areas of Further Research

As stated in section 5.0, an instrument that catered more to the differences of American English and Australian English should be created and used to perform a more in-depth analysis, particularly more function words that contain the retroflex liquid and more content words that that have the liquid as a word final sound.

A second area for possible research would be to analyze and describe how speakers of all different dialects and L1s read the instrument, paying careful attention to the speakers’ pace, his or her intonation, how many times he or she pauses or corrects him or herself, etc. With this kind of analysis many kinds of speaker biography details can be analyzed and compared, such as the speakers gender, fluency, the means of acquistion, age, etc.

7.0 Conclusion

No steadfast conclusions were able to be drawn from this analysis due to the limitations and the fact that the speech of only four consultants were transcribed and considered. However, in short, Australian English differs from American English on a couple accounts. 1) Australian English speakers more readily delete the retroflex liquid /ɹ/ word finally and in function words. 2) Devoicing of word final obstruents is quite common, voicing is less common in Australian English. 3) The voiced and voiceless interdental fricatives are more prone to assimilation than any other fricative in Australian English. 4) Australian English speakers produced slightly higher and slightly more diphthongized vowels than American English Speakers.

References

Rogers, Henry. (2000). The sounds of language: An introduction to phonetics. Essex: Pearson

Education Limited

Speech Accent Archive: http://www.accent.gmu.edu

Pronunciation of English Interdental Fricatives by French and Spanish L1 Speakers

Pronunciation of English Interdental Fricatives by French and Spanish L1 Speakers

Pronunciation is one of the most complicated aspects of teaching and learning English, and because of this complication, there is much debate in TESOL about the correct instruction of pronunciation for ESL students. ESL teachers, especially those working with oral skills and pronunciation, face a difficult task. Is there a single, correct form or dialect of English that should be taught? Should all English speakers sound like Americans or British? What if EFL students plan to study in Australia or Canada? The question is far more complicated than many English pronunciation instructors admit. Of course, context matters. If international students plan to study at an American university, it behooves them to listen to North American dialects – and make sure that their pronunciation is clear and comprehensible to American listeners. Being audience focused, after all, is part of effective communication and good manners.

Interdental fricatives are notoriously difficult for L2 speakers of English because of the fricatives’ absence in the phonemic inventory of a large majority of other world languages.  I chose Spanish and French speakers for this study. All of the consultants for this research were from either Spain or France. I felt it was important to use only one region for each language. This eliminates speaker variant pronunciation due to their speaking different dialects of the same language. I chose Spanish and French because I have studied both in great detail. I also studied in Pau, France which is less than an hour from the border of Spain. Pau lies in Le Pays Basque or Basque country which extends from southern France to Northern Spain. The number of Spanish to French speakers in this region is considerably close.

Methodology

In a study to uncover pronunciation similarities and differences of the English interdental fricatives between native French and Spanish speakers, three native French speakers’ and three native Spanish speakers were surveyed.  To find my consultants, I used the website http://accent.gmu.edu/ to find them. The site allows researchers to find speakers of certain language that meet the researcher’s needs. For this study, all four French consultants are native to France, and all of the Spanish consultants are native to Spain.  All of the consultants’ acquisition method is academic, their length of residence in an English speaking country is less than one year, and their ages of English onset is 11 years of age and older.

French Consultants

French consultant 1 is a twenty year old female from St. Laurent D’onay, which is in southeast France, and other than English and French, she speaks Spanish. She was twelve when she began learning English, and her length of residence in the USA is five months. French consultant 2 is a twenty-two year old female from Nice, which is along the French la côté d’azure, in the southeast of France. In addition to English, she also speaks German. She began learning English at the age of eleven, and her length of residence in the USA is two months. French Consultant 3 is a twenty year old male from St. Louis, France, which is the northeast of France near Normandy. He also speaks German and the age of his English onset is twelve.  One month in the U.K. is his length of residence.

Spanish Consultants

Spanish Consultant 1 is a twenty two year old female from Madrid, Spain. In addition to Spanish and English, she also speaks German. Her age of English onset is 14, and her length of residence in the USA is ten months. Spanish Consultant 2 is a twenty-four year old male from Zaragora, Spain which actually lies in le pays basque in northern Spain. His age of English onset is fourteen, and his length of residence in Ireland is a month. Spanish Consultant 3 is a 28 year old male from Cartagena, Spain. Besides Spanish and English, he speaks German. He began learning English at age eleven and his length of residence in the U.K. is 9 months.

Hypothesis

I predict that Spanish speakers will pronounce the voiceless interdental fricative /θ/ correctly while the French mispronounce it and replace the sound with a voiceless alveolar fricative /s/. I also think that both the Spanish and French speakers will pronounce the voiced interdental fricative /ð/ incorrectly, since both languages’ phonetic inventory lack the sound.

Data Analysis

The only sound that every speaker pronounced correctly was the voiced interdental fricative /ð/ as a word medial sound in brother. The word brother is the only time that

Cumulatively, the three French speakers pronounced the voiceless interdental fricative /θ/ correctly eight out of fifteen times, or 53.3 % of the time in the data. The three Spanish speakers produced it correctly fourteen out of fifteen times, or 93.3% of the time in the data.  Such high correct pronunciation of the voiceless interdental fricative /θ/ is due to the sound’s presence in the phonetic inventory of Spanish in Spain. However, the voiced interdental fricative /ð/ is not represented in the phonemic inventory. According to Llisterri, the voiceless interdental fricative /θ/ and the voiceless alveolar fricative /s/ have voiced allophones when they are followed by a voiced consonant (2).  The number of times the three Spanish speakers produced the voiced interdental fricative /ð/ correctly is nine out of eighteen times, or sixty percent of the time. The French language lacks both the voiced interdental fricative /ð/ and the voiceless /θ/ in its phonemic inventory. The three French speakers also produced the voiced interdental fricative /ð/ correctly nine out of fifteen times, or sixty percent of the time.

The French speakers incorrectly replaced the voiceless interdental fricative /θ/  twice with a voiceless alveolar fricative /s/, twice with a voiced interdental fricative /ð/, twice with a voiceless labiodental fricative /f/, and once with a voiceless alveolar plosive /t/.  The /s/ matches the /θ/ in place and manner of articulation, and their places of articulation are fairly close in the mouth.  The /ð/ matches the /θ/ in place and manner of articulation. The /f/ matches the /θ/ in manner of articulation, though their places of articulation are close as well.

The only error in voiceless interdental fricative /θ/ pronunciation was made by Spanish Consultant 1. She replaced the interdental with a voiceless alveolar plosive /t/. The /t/ doesn’t have /θ/’s  same place or manner of articulation, but they are both voiceless sounds and their places of articulation are close in the mouth. It’s even closer when the interdental is made dental by some American English speakers, which can happen when the voiceless interdental fricative /θ/ is a word initial or word final sound.

The French speakers replaced the voiced interdental fricative /ð/ twice with a voiced alveolar fricative/z/; four times with a voiced alveolar plosive /d/, two of these were devoiced; and once with an alveolar nasal /n/. The Spanish speakers replaced the voiced interdental fricative /ð/ seven times with a voiced alveolar plosive /d/, and twice with an alveolar nasal /n/. The /z/ matches the /ð/ in manner of articulation, though again, alveolar is close in place of articulation to interdental.

French speaker replacement sounds of /θ/

The only instance of the voiceless interdental fricative /θ/ as a word initial sound is in the word thick . French Consultants 2 and 3 followed the correct pronunciation by an unrounded close front /i/, while Spanish Consultant 1 followed it by the lax vowel /ɪ/.

The voiceless alveolar fricative /s/ replaces the voiceless interdental fricative [θ] twice as a word initial sound by the French speakers. Once with French Consultant 1 in the word three , [sri].  The phoneme replacement occurs after the word into, [ɪntu] ending in the nucleus,  a rounded close back /u/, of the word final consonant. This word final vowel is correctly pronounced. The other time /s/ replaces a /θ/ is with French Consultant 2 with the word things, [siŋs]. The phoneme replacement occurs after the word these, [̥diz], the voiced alveolar fricative /z/ is a correct pronunciation. The voiceless alveolar /s/ replacement here could be due to the voiced alveolar /z/; the two sounds are the identical except in respect to voicing.

The voiced interdental fricative /ð/ replaces the voiceless identical sound twice. In the same word with by French Consultant 2 and 3, pronounced [wɪð]. This pronunciation is not necessarily incorrect though. If these two studied English under a British system, this pronunciation would be considered correct. This pronunciation definitely doesn’t affect intelligibility of the word either, but in reference to correct American English pronunciation, it’s incorrect.

The voiceless labiodental fricative /f/’s replacement of /θ/ occurs twice; with the same word things, pronounced [fiŋz]; and by the same speaker, French Consultant 3. The replacement occurs after the word these, [̥diz], a voiced alveolar fricative /z/ as the word final sound.

Spanish speaker replacement sounds of /θ/

Again, the voiceless interdental fricative /θ/ was incorrectly mispronounced only once, by Spanish Consultant 1 in the word things, pronounced [tiŋgs]. The replacement phoneme follows a voiceless alveolar fricative /s/ in the word these, [dɪs].

French speaker replacement sounds of  /ð/

In addition to /ð/ as a word medial sound in brother, the only interdental sound to be correctly pronounced is as a word initial sound in the, which all three consultants pronounce correctly, following the /ð/ by an unstressed schwa /ə/.

The replacement of the /ð/ by French speakers occurs twice with the voiced alveolar fricative /z/ twice by the same speaker, Spanish Consultant 1 in the same word, these, pronounced [zis] both times. The first follows a correct pronunciation of bring, [bɹĩŋ]; velar nasal /ŋ/ is the word final sound. The second /z/ replacement in these follows the word scoop, which she pronounces [skup˺]. The replacement sound occurs after an unreleased voiceless bilabial plosive /p/. This unreleased plosive is an incorrect pronunciation according to Standard American English Standards. The plosive as a word final sound is aspirated /ʰ/.

The voiced alveolar plosive /d/ replaces /θ/ four times in word initial sound position. Once with French Consultant 1 in the word the, pronounced /̥də/. The voiceless allophone /̥d/ of the phoneme /d/ replacement occurs after the technically incorrect pronunciation of from, [fɹʌm]; a bilabial nasal /m/ as the word final sound. The pronunciation is technically incorrect because a general rule for stressed and unstressed syllables of standard American English is that only lexical words like nouns, verbs, pronouns, and adjectives have stressed syllables; and content words, most other parts of speech, are unstressed. So a correct pronunciation would have an unstressed vowel in the preposition from, [fɹəm]. The second replacing of /θ/ with /d/ is with French Consultant 2 in the word these, [diz] after the word bring, pronounced [brĩŋ]. The last two /d/ replacement of /ð/ in the same word, word position, and environment as French Consultant 2. However, French Consultant 3 also mispronounces the /ð/ in the word the which follows a voiceless alveolar plosive /t/ in the word at, pronounced incorrectly as [ɛt].

Spanish speaker replacement sounds of  /ð/

Replacement of  /ð/ with /d/ occurs nine times, five times by the same speaker, Spanish Consultant 1, who uses /d/ to replace /ð/ in every word except for brother. Spanish Consultant 2 replaces /ð/ with /d/ three times, but all for the same word the, pronounced [də]. The follws from, for, and at, pronounced [fɹʌm], [fɔɹ], and [ət] accordingly; so, pronunciation of the as [də] occurs after a bilabial nasal /m/, an alveolar approximant /ɹ/, and a voiceless alveolar plosive /t/.

Spanish consultant 3 is the only Spanish consultant that replaced /ð/ with an alveolar nasal /n/. It occurs as a word initial position in the word the, /nə/ following a bilabial nasal /m/ in the word from, [fɹʌm].

Discussion

In total the French consultants incorrectly pronounced the voiceless interdental fricative /θ/ seven times out of fifteen. The replacement of /θ/ with a voiceless alveolar fricative /s/, a voiced interdental fricative /ð/, and a voiceless labiodental fricative /f/ all occur two out of seven times or 28.5% of /θ/ pronunciation errors. /ð/ replaces /θ/ only once, or 14.2% of /θ/ pronunciation errors.

Incorrect pronunciation of the voiced /ð/ interdental fricative by the French speakers occurs seven times out of fifteen. The replacement sounds are the voiced alveolar fricative /d/ which occurs five out of seven times or 71.4% of /ð/ pronunciation errors, and the voiced alveolar fricative /z/ two out of seven times or 28.5% of  /ð/ pronunciation errors.

The Spanish consultants had less of a variety in placement sounds than my French consultants. Replacement of the voiceless interdental fricative occurs once as a voiceless alveolar plosive /t/, or 100% of all errors.

The only other sound that the Spanish consultants replaced /ð/ with other than the voiced alveolar plosive /d/ is the alveolar nasal /n/ only once or ten percent of /ð/ pronunciation errors.

Conclusion

According to this data, both of my predictions for how the Spanish speakers would pronounce the interdental fricatives were correct. The most frequent replacement sound of /ð/ by Spanish speakers is the voiced alveolar plosive /d/, just as I hypothesized. However, my hypothesis for how French speakers would pronounce the interdental fricatives was incorrect. The voiceless alveolar fricative /s/, the voiced interdental fricative /ð/, and the voiceless labiodental fricative /f/ all occur at the same frequency for the French speakers’ data. Also they pronounced /ð/ most often as a voiced alveolar plosive /d/, not the voiced alveolar fricative /z/ as I predicted.

Spanish speakers are more likely to replace both interdental sounds with more consistent sounds than French speakers. Also, I found it interesting that the only sound that all speakers produced regularly was the voiceless interdental fricative /ð/ as a word medial sound in brother. If I were to further research in this field, I would like to investigate ELL’s pronunciation of the interdental fricatives as word medial sounds versus the pronunciation of /ð/ as word initial and finial sounds.

 

The Creation of Sin: A Look at Paradise Lost

The Creation of Sin: A Look at Paradise Lost

John Milton writes in Paradise Lost “Of Man’s first disobedience and the fruit/ of that forbidden tree whose mortal taste/ Brought death into the world” (1.1-3). He establishes the classic struggle of good and evil and shows exactly where this conflict first arose. Before the existence of Man, Satan waged a war in Heaven, where he tried to overthrow the almighty power of the Christian God. Satan, once one of the highest archangels, became jealous when God presented his only begotten Son “have anointed whom ye now behold/ At [His] right hand” (5.605-6). Satan persuaded one third of the archangels to be disloyal to God and a fruitless, meaningless war was fought for three days. The fallen angels fell for nine days through chaos, until they finally landed in Hell. God then creates “another world, the happy seat/ Of some new race called Man about this time” (2.347-8). The first beings of this new race are Adam, a man, and Eve, a woman. Eve is historically said to be the original breeder of sin through her disobedience of God. However, through textual support from Paradise Lost, it can be shown that women, as Eve, were not entirely to blame for the fall of mankind, but both sexes, men and women alike, should share equal blame for this “loss of Eden” (1.4).

The creation of Adam and Eve could prove to be a large factor in determining that both Adam and Eve are to blame for the introduction of sin into the world. Milton presents Eve’s creation story first, though, Adam’s creation was chronologically first.

Milton does much with flashbacks in Paradise Lost. The beginning of the poem starts right after the fallen angels have landed in Hell, after falling for nine days, but then flashes back to the war in Heaven in Books Five and Six. It is suggested that by doing this, John Milton is attempting, and succeeding in for that matter, to make Paradise Lost into an epic. Much like Virgil and Homer’s works, Paradise Lost starts us in the middle of a story and progresses both forward and backward in time to reach a resolving conclusion of the story and to recount events prior to the start of the epic. Milton’s putting Eve’s creation story before Adam’s is another way in which he tries to make Paradise Lost an epic. Eve is created from Adam’s rib, which was extracted by God while Adam was sleeping. This immediately presents the idea that Eve is not as close with God as Adam is. Because Adam was created from the “Dust of the ground” by God, making Adam alike in His image, Eve being created from Adam is like a carbon copy of a carbon copy (7.525). Eve’s being a duplicate of a duplicate already makes her more apt to disobedience because she is, in some sense, further from God. After her creation, Eve awakens “under a shade on flow’rs” wondering who and what she is and how she was brought about and why (4.451). Eve soon sees in a lake her reflection in all its glory. She finds herself strikingly beautiful “and [is] pined with vain desire” (4.466). Milton then exhorts that woman have a supreme beauty over that of men as Eve finds Adam and thinks he is “fair indeed, and tall,” but “less fair,/ Less winning soft, less amiably mild” than she (4. 477, 478-479). At once Eve finds herself and her image superior to that of Adam and retreats to return back to “that smooth wat’ry image” at the lake (4.480). Milton suggests that Eve’s vanity leads to her downfall. It’s a good indication that Satan, after overhearing this creation story, will use flattery and beguilement to tempt Eve. Furthermore, after overhearing Adam tell Eve not to complain about the work in their garden, but to be thankful of God, and to obey the one order that he has given them: “not to taste that only Tree/ Of Knowledge planted by the Tree of Life,” Satan wonders that if God has given them a command, they could be tempted into disobeying it (4.423-4).

Adam’s creation story is dissimilar to Eve’s because he is not shown to have any flaws or shortcomings from the start, unlike Eve and her vanity. Adam is created “in [God and the Son’s] image, Man/ in [Their] similitude” (7.519-20). He awakens in “This happy light,” while Eve had admittedly awoken in shade (8.285). Also God appears before Adam “of shape divine,” where God was a mere voice when he spoke to Eve (8.295). Adam then is given the direct order not to eat the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge by the Son, “but of the tree/ Which tasted works knowledge of good and evil/ Though may’st not. In the day thou eat’st, thou diest” (7.543-4). All God is truly looking for is both obedience and service from humankind and his angels. He wants “One Kingdom, joy and union without end” (7.161). Immediately, Adam knows of his place in the world, whereas, Eve was confused after first awakening. Adam knows that God is more powerful than he and he is therefore below God and at His service,

To attain/ The Heighth and depth of Thy eternal ways/ All human thoughts come short/ All human thoughts come short, Supreme of things./ Thou in Thyself art perfect and in Thee/ Is no deficence found. Not so is Man. (8.412-16)

However, Eve is too consumed by her own beauty to notice the beauty of God’s creation around her.  All of these differences in their creation suggest that Adam is somehow closer to both God and the Truth about their existence on the new earth and is therefore more liable to obedience and adherence to God’s commands and orders. Even Satan is able to recognize that “their sex not equal seemed:/ He for God only, she for God in him” (4.296, 299). This could be a reason as to why Satan targets Eve. He recognizes that she is most liable to fall.

Despite the fact that God made Adam higher than Eve and more likely to obey his direct orders, God creates them as a team. In her paper “The Mischief-Marking of Raphael Upon Adam and Eve in Paradise Lost,” Corinne Abate says, “Adam and Eve consider each other as inseparable, equal soul mates, brought together by God to stay that way forever” (42). Separately, neither Eve nor Adam can battle with Satan’s evil craftiness, but together, they can. They are built as a unit, “For contemplation he and valor formed,/ For softeness she and sweet attractive grace” (4.297-8). Both are part of the machine of humankind, for God knows that “it[‘s] not good for Man to be alone,” thus he erects Eve to serve as Adam’s companion, his comrade against Satan and sin (8.445). Eve is “bone of [Adam’s] bone, flesh of [his] flesh,” but is different in that she has “innocence and virgin modesty” (8.495, 501). Despite their apparent differences and inequalities, they are “one flesh [and] one heart” (8.499). Adam seems to realize that he and Eve are a “union of mind or in [them] both one soul” before Eve does (8.604). Whether Eve doesn’t understand that they are a union or understands and chooses to ignore it, Milton doesn’t make clear. Milton makes it so that it’s Adam who recognizes that they have the best chance of defeating Satan together, “on us both at once/ The enemy, though bold, will hardly dare,” but Eve is persistent on working alone (9.303-4). So despite his best intentions to stay together, Adam concedes to his wife’s request for fear of upsetting her. Here, we could justifiably blame both parties for their disconnectedness. Eve because she is so persistent to work alone, “For solitude sometimes is best society,” and Adam because he knows that he has a higher intellect and should have refused to split up, but he allows it because he is being far too obsequious to Eve, who is supposedly below him in stature and intellect (9.249).

Both Adam and Eve should be held responsible for the actual eating of The Tree of Knowledge’s fruit. Both eat it, and though their intentions are quite different, their reasons for eating the fruit are as sinful as their disobedience. Eve first gets the impression that the ambrosial fruit can make “gods of men” from the disturbing dream she had where an angel plucked one of the fruits from The Tree of Knowledge and tasted it (5.70). Really, it is Satan “squat like a toad close at the ear of [the sleeping] Eve” whispering this dream (4.800). When it gets to Satan’s actual deception and flattery of Eve, finding out that eating the Tree’s fruit can make her “A goddess among gods” won’t be quite as alarming (9.547). Eve will have had time to contemplate this dream and decide on its validity. After encountering a talking snake, Eve will surely believe in the fruit’s power and her naiveté will be at its greatest. Milton describes Eve as “our credulous mother,” meaning Eve could have just been too gullible and far too willing to be more than human (9.644). Because Eve is deliberate in her disobedience, her sin is almost preplanned and premeditated, which makes it that much worse. Eve counts on being equal to or greater than God because Satan as the serpent tells her that he is like man after eating the fruit because he can talk, so, she will surely be just like God, the next rank up in the hierarchy of the universe, “That ye should be as gods since I as Man,/ Internal Man, is but proportion meet:/ I of brute human, ye of human gods” (9.710-2).  Because “Eve demonstrates an approach to the created world that is based not upon authority and reason but upon the necessity of relationships in order to complete one’s sense of self,”  she deems it a necessity to make Adam eat the fruit as well (Liebert 155).

Adam’s sin lies in how his love of Eve shrouds his love of God. In book 8, Adam goes on and on about Eve, reiterating this lustful desire that she holds over him to Raphael. “Here passion first I felt,/ Commotion strange! In all enjoyments else/ Superior and unmoved, here only week/ Again the charm of beauty’s powerful glance (8.530-3). However, Raphael advises Adam to refrain from carnal touch and corporeal passion and to find a more honorable love to reflect their love of God, “By which to Heavenly love thou may’st ascend/ Not sunk in carnal pleasure” (8.592). Adam is unable to follow Raphael’s advice because when Eve tells him that she has eaten the fruit off the Tree of Knowledge, he is at once “amazed/ astonied stood and blank while horror chill/ Ran through his veins” (9.889-91).  His fear of her disobedience to God is soon replaced with fear of what shall become of Eve. Adam isn’t sure if he could stand to live without her on earth. He admits that “God [could] create another Eve,” but his carnal passion is far too great for this Eve that stands before him (9.911). Adam then decides that their “state cannot be severed” and that they are “one flesh: to lose [Eve] were to lose [him]self” (9.958, 959). Adam “scrupled not to eat,/ against his better knowledge,” but he becomes too “overcome with female charm, so he “complet[es] the mortal sin” by eating the fruit (9.997-8, 999, 1003). The couple look at each other with” lascivious eyes” and find themselves feeling divinity within” (9.1014, 1010).

Adam and Eve can now be compared to two high school students unwilling to withstand peer pressure. Eve finds herself being pressured into eating the fruit by the talking snake. Satan is a powerful orator in every speech that he delivers. In his tempting of Eve, he uses an abundance of rhetorical questions. By doing this, Satan is making Eve ask herself the very same questions. When Eve begins contemplating her disobedience in her head, she too uses a plethora of rhetorical questions. Eve has, thus, internalized Satan’s language. When Eve tempts Adam into eating the fruit, she uses one rhetorical question that gurantees that she will directly disobey God. She asks him, “Hast thou no wondered, Adam, at my stay?” (9.856). At Eve’s fall, Satan was the peer guilty of pressuring another peer, but at Adam’s fall, Eve switches roles and becomes the one doing the peer pressuring. Adam finds himself unable to bear “the pain of [Eve’s] absence from [his] sight” (9.861). He decides he must eat the fruit so that if they die because of it, at least they will die together. After eating, Adam realizes the pleasure of eating the fruit and wonders why he and Eve were forced to abstain from eating it for so long. He then contemplates even more disobedience when he says, “If such pleasure be/ In things to us forbidd’n it might be wished for this one tree had been forbidden ten!” (9.1026). He wishes that God had forbidden them to eat more trees so he could feel even more of such pleasure. The apple, here, is almost seen as a drug. Eve is tempted into trying the drug, which she then tempts Adam into trying. They both receive a high from it and decide that they are “so well refreshed [that] now [they must] play” (9.225). The fruit intensifies Adam’s sin as he becomes even more lustful towards Eve, whom he finds even “fairer now” that it “inflame[s his] senses” (9.1032, 1031). Milton describes their sinful playing as “in lust they burn” (9.1015). There is nothing at all heavenly about their sex after eating the forbidden fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. After the couple comes down from their drug induced high, they realize the severity of what they have done. They no longer feel the pleasure they did after first tasting the drug, the apple, but now the pleasure has worn off and they feel the depression that normally follows a high. They are embarrassed by their sinful disobedience and by their nakedness. Adam, at once, blames Eve for this “good lost, and evil got,” but Eve blames the serpent (9.1072). Milton describes new “high passions” that arise, but these passions are not good like the high pleasure they received after eating the apple. These passions are “anger, hate,/Mistrust, suspicion, discord – and shook sore/ Their inward state of mind” (9.1123-5).

Both Adam and Eve sinned greatly to eat the apple off the Tree of Knowledge. Eve, because she was created out of a disadvantage, was much more likely to be disobedient to God’s will. Because of her subservience, she finds herself wanting to be more than Adam and more than human. Adam is told directly from Raphael to find a purer love for Eve, but because of the lust he feels for Eve, he is unable to do so. Both sinned in their disobedience, and their reasons for eating the apple are just as sinful as their disobedience. Yes, Eve tempted Adam into eating it, but she cannot be directly blamed for the fall because of her tempting Adam. Adam had to consent somewhere along the way. Thus both Adam and Eve, both men and women, should share equal blame for this creation of sin on earth.

Works Cited

Abate, Corinne S. Ebscohost. “The Mischief-Marking of Raphael Upon Adam and Eve in

Paradise Lost. English Language Notes 36.3 (1999): 41-54. 11 Nov 2008 <http://web.ebscohost.com.ezproxy.libraries.wright.edu:2048/ehost/pdf?vid=5&hid=17&sid=cc8582a6-6540-4509-9ee3-5731d0aeffc2%40sessionmgr8&gt;

Liebert, Elisabeth. Ebscohost. “Rendering “More Equal”: Eve’s Changing Discourse in

Paradise Lost.Milton Quarterly 37.3 (2003): 152-165. 10 Nov 2008 <http://web.ebscohost.com.ezproxy.libraries.wright.edu:2048/ehost/pdf?vid=4&hid=17&sid=cc8582a6-6540-4509-9ee3-5731d0aeffc2%40sessionmgr8&gt;

Milton, John. Paradise Lost: A Norton Critical Edition, ed. Gordon Tesky. 3rd ed. New

York: Norton, 2005.

In the Still Silence

In the Still Silence


There — in the still Silence

beyond the Dull grave gate,

behind the Tombstones

I stood, Sweating–sweating at the Alter

preparing to State my Vow

Interrupted, I was —

by nothing more than a Mere cough

A cough Erupted from the pews —

I was glue — eyes upon me, Shaking

I Dropped the band and took off

In a sprint — I reached the door,

Exiting to a New Dawn  —

Inside, I heard

more than a cough Exclaimed

Yet I was plain and headed toward

Infinite Possibilities

Racial Dynamics: Toni Morrison’s “Recitatif”

Racial Dynamics: Toni Morrison’s “Recitatif”

*Published in The Fogdog Review Winter 2010

The concluding line to Toni Morrison’s only published short story “Recitatif,”  ‘‘What the hell happened to Maggie?” is a curious one indeed (Morrison 2698).  Instead of bringing about a resolving conclusion, this question advances the reader’s curiosity to the nostalgic memory of Maggie, a mute woman who worked in the kitchen at the orphanage in which the story’s two main characters, Roberta and Twyla, were raised. The ambiguous childhood memory of Maggie figuratively and literally becomes the central conflict between Twyla and Roberta’s friendship. Neither of the girls ever truly knew Maggie well and neither saw Maggie after leaving St. Bonny’s orphanage, but the memory of the orchard in which the bowlegged Maggie fell reoccurs every time the girls reencounter one another in adulthood. Maggie is not an active character in the story; she is a mere memory for Twyla and Roberta. Instead, Maggie’s character works as a symbol for both Twyla and Roberta’s companionship and conflict and their similarities and differences.

Twyla, the story’s narrator, tells the story from a first person point of view. However, her narration is challenged as Morrison explores the memory of Maggie in the orchard, making Twyla reevaluate this incident every time she encounters Roberta. Twyla and Roberta disagree about the incident in the orchard, and this disagreement forces Twyla to wonder if her memory is deceiving her. The orchard becomes an important setting, as it is the place where Twyla and Roberta become both victims and victimizers. When she first mentions the orchard, Twyla says, “I don’t know why I dreamt about the orchard so much. Nothing really happened there. Nothing all that important, I mean,” (Morrison 2686).  Here, Twyla’s remark is a bit confusing and is indeed something to look at. As David Goldstein-Shirley says in his article “Race and Response: Toni Morrison’s ‘Recitatif’:”

This comment is most problematic. The entire narrative comprises Twyla’s recollections of past events. If, as readers naturally assume when reading a first-person account, the narrator is speaking to them in the present, then why would Twyla say that nothing really happened in the orchard? Telling a retrospective story, she ought to know that the incident with Maggie, which obsesses her throughout the story, is not only significant but crucial (Goldstein-Shirley).

Yes, as the audience progresses further and further into the story, they find that important events did take place in the orchard, and that Maggie’s humiliation, as well as their own, become a central theme to the story. When first discussing the orchard, Twyla describes it as having hundreds of apple trees and being “fat with flowers,” (Morrison 2686). They would watch the older, intimidating girls dance to the radio there. Twyla then describes a particular day when Maggie hurries through the orchard to catch her bus but falls, and all the older girls laugh at her. Twyla feels some sting of guilt as she ventures to say, “We should have helped her up, I know, but we were scared of those girls,” (Morrison 2686). Twyla realizes, here, the hierarchal power at St. Bonny’s and her own position in it. Twyla and Roberta were intimidated by and frightened of the older girls. Looking back on it, however, Twyla realizes the older girls were merely acting tough even though they were “poor little girls [who] fought their uncles off,” (Morrison 2686). At St. Bonny’s, the older girls group together to victimize Roberta, Twyla, and Maggie. Twyla and Roberta then victimize Maggie by calling her names because they fear being voiceless and powerless like Maggie. They identify themselves with the older, victimizing girls instead of coming to Maggie’s aid.

Twyla and Roberta are able to be victimizers because they have each other. They share the fact that their mothers have left them at St. Bonny’s, Twyla’s because she “danced all night and Roberta’s [because she] was sick” (Morrison 2685). Although each girl is lucky that her parents are not dead, both feel the pain of abandonment and this feeling becomes a key reason as to why the girls become so close despite their racial differences. Although the girls were very close at St. Bonny’s, Twyla describes their meeting again at a diner called, “Howard Johnson’s” as being much less warm. Their racial separation seems to be a much larger issue. When Roberta and Twyla later discuss their militant meeting, Roberta says, ‘‘Oh, Twyla, you know how it was in those days: black-white,” (Morrison 2693). In Newburgh, not only do the two women live in separate sections of a racially segregated community, but also they are of different socio-economic classes. Roberta married a wealthy man that worked with “computers and stuff,” and Twyla married a fireman (Morrison 2693).

When the town becomes divided because of the bussing controversy, the racial and economic differences between Twyla and Roberta become even more apparent. Twyla becomes an advocate for bussing while Roberta vehemently opposes it. Their disagreement over what exactly happened to Maggie is reflected in this public confrontation. Twyla begins to argue with Roberta while Roberta is picketing, and a large mass of people surround Twyla’s car and begin throwing rocks at it. Twyla responds to this aggressive action by saying:

Automatically I reached for Roberta, like in the old days in the orchard when [the older girls] saw us watching them and we had to get out of there, and if one of us fell the other pulled her up and if one of us was caught the other stayed to kick and scratch, and neither would leave the other behind. My arm shot out of the car window but no receiving hand was there (Morrison 2695).

At this point, Twyla identifies with the helpless feelings that Maggie had in the orchard that day. At St. Bonny’s, Twyla and Roberta were close friends because of their feelings of abandonment, but here, Roberta abandons Twyla. Because she gropes for Roberta’s hand only to find it not there, Twyla relates to the same humiliation that Maggie had in the orchard. Roberta then compares Twyla to one of “the big girls on the second floor” by telling Twyla that she is “the same little state kid who kicked a poor old black lady when she was down on the ground,” (Morrison 2686, 2695).

The hierarchies that existed back in the orchard at St. Bonny’s now exist in this historical, public scene. These hierarchies, however, are different. The power hierarchies in the orchard concern intimidation and powerlessness, but in the bussing scene, they concern race. Twyla had previously described Maggie as “sandy-colored,” so when Roberta described Maggie as being black, Twyla at once rejects this idea (Morrison 2686). This, however, can lead readers to question the validity of Twyla’s memory. “The problematic accusation also calls into question the completeness of Twyla’s storytelling,” (Goldstein-Shirley). Upon later thought, Twyla admits, “I actually couldn’t be certain. She wasn’t pitch-black, I knew, or I would have remembered that. What I remember was the kiddie hat, and the semicircle legs,” (Morrison 2697). Because Twyla was unsure of which race Maggie actually belonged to, it is obvious that race was not a factor in the St. Bonny’s orchard. “During their childhood, this bond conceal[ed] complications of race and class,” but now with where each of the women are in this tightly-knit community, race takes on a whole new meaning (Androne 136). Elizabeth Abel even says, “Roberta is skeptical about racial harmony.” Is it her overbearing mother’s fault for her abrupt discrimination, or was it her uprising in social class? Regardless, Maggie’s humiliating fall in the orchard begins to take on racial significance because of it.

At Twyla and Roberta’s last meeting at the diner where they run into each other, Roberta confesses to having lied about the two of them kicking Maggie when she was already down on the ground. Twyla had already concluded that she had not kicked Maggie like Roberta said but admits to having wanted to. Her wanting to kick Maggie when she was already down is due to the fact that Twyla connects Maggie with her mother. “Maggie was my dancing mother,” (Morrison 2697). “Twyla and Roberta revise their memories of Maggie in order to transfer their anxieties and anger toward their mothers onto her,” (Androne 134). Twyla connects her repressed hostility toward her irresponsible mother with the pity she had for Maggie. At the diner, Roberta concedes that she had also wanted to kick Maggie. She too identifies her feelings of abandonment with Maggie, comparing Maggie with her mother as well even though Roberta’s mother  is the opposite of Twyla’s mother, Mary. Moreover, both Twyla and Roberta identify themselves with Maggie. “I knew she wouldn’t scream, couldn’t—just like me—and I was glad about that,” says Twyla as she compares her own feelings of helplessness to Maggie’s (Morrison 2697).

The way in which Toni Morrison creates an inactive character such as Maggie, and turns her into a central symbol brings about interesting questions regarding the racial fissure that divides Roberta and Twyla. Through Maggie, the woman begin to release their tumultuous and repressed feelings of St. Bonny’s because of Mrs. Itkin, Twyla and Roberta’s caretaker, nicknamed Big Bozo, and their mothers’ neglect. By connecting themselves with Maggie, a woman they formerly suppressed, they gain a greater understanding of themselves, each other, and their racial differences. However, “What the hell happened to Maggie?” is still a lingering question on their minds (Morrison 2698). It is one that will never be answered, and the women will never be as complete as they would have been if they had not abandoned Maggie and eventually each other.

Works Cited

Abel, Elizabeth. ‘‘Black Writing, White Reading: Race and the Politics of Feminist Interpretation,’’ inCritical Inquiry, Spring, 1993, pp. 471–98.

Androne, Helane Adams. MELUS, Summer2007, Vol. 32 Issue 2, p133-150, 18

Revised Memories and Colliding Identities: Absence and Presence in Morrison’sRecitatif” and Viramontes’s “Tears on My Pillow.”.

Goldstein-Shirley, David. ‘‘Race and Response: Toni Morrison’s ‘Recitatif’,’’ in Short Story, Vol. 5, No. 1, Spring, 1997, pp. 77–86.

Morrison, Toni. “Recitatif.” The Norton Anthology of American Literature Volume E. 7th ed. Ed. Nina Baym. New York: Norton & Company, 2007. 2684-98.

 

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