- Henry Roth: A Curious Meeting
- Jeannette Walls: Half Broke Horses
The last paragraph of the text A curious meeting
- written by Henry Roth and published in 1934 - focuses on a detailed description of the statue of Liberty. This monument is known as a symbol of a new beginning, entailing a new country, new culture and the promise of liberty.
Usually, the statue of Liberty is associated with the idea of hope and it is also connoted with rather positive pictures that the author paints in his text. The images of the statue facing the “brilliance of sunlit water” (l. 61f.) as well as the “flawless light” (l. 65) and the luminous sky (l. 64) emphasize that fact with the symbol of light promising a bright future. However, a lot of negative connotations prevail darkening the hopes of the immigrants gazing upon her. First of all, the staue of Liberty seems threating to the immigrants on Ellis Island through her sheer heigth. It is as if she was dominating the glittering sea and sunlit water which stand in a stark contrast towards her. Even the sun hides behind her, veiling her in shadows (cf. l. 63). Henry Roth also refers to the dirt and destruction that the statue has already faced by claiming that the features of Liberty are also covered in darkness; she herself looks exhausted, lacking energy and exhibiting a certain tiredness (cf. l. 63). In addition, the statue poses a certain threat or danger with her dark halo piercing the sky and with even her torch - a beacon of light and hope - being shadowy and appearing like a cross. The torch also reminds of a “blackened hilt of a broken sword” (l. 65f.) which is an image of defeat and hopelessness. In conclusion, the statue does not at all promise freedom and a new, better life but rather looks towards immigration and the prospect of the future as a threatening challenge.
New beginnings are often perceived as a challenge, some of them appear threatening as in Henry Roth's story but some face new beginnings with a constant positive attitude. Take the protagonist Lily Casey Smith of Jeannette Walls' Half Broke Horses
as an example. She encounters a lot of new beginnings throughout the novel by often changing places, finding new jobs and coping with loss and danger. Lily adapts to new surroundings very easily - as a child, they move to a new house and she likes it even better and takes responsibility early on by helping her dad running the farm. Very early in her life, she finds her true purpose - becoming a teacher and transmitting knowledge to others. She exhibits a positive attitude towards everything and shows strong refusal to give in in various situations in her life. Even though she is denied of going to school, Lily still manages to get educated, finally attends school and also takes the test which grants her permission to become a teacher at 15 years old due to the lack of teachers during World War I. Not long after landing her first job at Red Lake, she already gets substituted by a more qualified teacher. Yet, she is not desolate but rather moves from town to town, taking on various teaching assignments and still enjoys her life. When she is finally dismissed as a teacher, she moves back home and realizes that planes and cars will be the future which is why she moves to Chicago. There, Lily thrives even though she works as a servant. Her refusal to give in becomes even more obvious when she is betrayed by her husband and when her friend dies - she has finished high school and moves back to her parent's ranch where she goes to college, being more eager than the other students to get good grades. This is the reason why she gets a teaching position at Red Lake again; the people there deem her an expert for difficult children. That Lily is not willing to bow to anyone's beliefs and traditions can be seen when she teaches the Mormon girls about religious freedom and emancipation even though that is frowned upon by the village's elders. Also, Lily often gets dismissed as a teacher but she never ceases to believe in her skill of teaching and in her passion to transmit knowledge towards others.
Lily faces new situations or challenges with great resourcefulness, always trying to solve problems in the best way. In order to pay for her college tuition, she earns money as a teacher in Red Lake for instance. Her resourcefulness does not only include herself but also extends towards those she loves and holds dear. So when her sister Helen tells her about her pregnancy and about the fact that she will have to raise her child, Lily consoles her by telling her about all the hard experiences she has made and even tries to find her a husband. Not even Helen's suicide can stop Lily from achieving her dreams - she moves away and decides to have children with Jim Smith. Noticing that the future lies in technological advances such as cars and planes, she and Jim open a garage in Arizona. The luxurious house they live in can be seen as a symbol for her ascent from a poor ranch girl to an experienced woman. When the family faces the backlashes of the Great Depression, Lily decides to sell illegally produced alcohol and thus earns money to keep the family's standard of live. When this doesn't work out anymore, they move to a ranch of which Jim is the caretaker and Lily builds a dam when she finds out that the ranch lacks a water source. In order to earn more money to buy the farm from the investors, she even becomes a salesman, selling lexica from door to door. Hence, Lily is working really hard in order to achieve her goals and always comes up with new ideas to actually work towards them.
Furthermore, Lily meets new beginnings with a great deal of motivation and energy. Her perseverance in pursuing a teaching career emphasizes that fact: even though she faces several difficulties such as being dismissed or being disliked by the parents of some students, she still enjoys her life as a teacher and always goes back to teaching despite several other jobs she used to have. Additionally, her adventurous spirit crystallizes in this specific quote “You can’t prepare for everything life’s going to throw at you. And you can’t avoid danger. It’s there. The world is a dangerous place, and if you sit around wringing your hands about it, you’ll out on all the adventure.” Lily can also rely on herself heavily on her adventures. At the age of 15, she travels to Red Lake by herself with her horse Patches and a gun in her bags. Almost being robbed by a girl in the desert, she is not afraid to point her gun towards the attacker - an incident that repeats twice afterwards. Her self-reliance often helps her through tough periods in her life.
Challenges can be met in two ways: either they can be seen as a real threat, making the task of overcoming them really difficult, or they can be deemed as an enrichment and an opportunity just as Lily does. Lily adapts to the amount of unexpected things happening and takes things as they are. Her resourcefulness as well as her optimistic attitude help her surviving various setbacks including the death of people she is close to or the betrayal of her first husband. Instead of being weakened by those experiences, she turns them into her main motivation to live the life she has always intended to have.
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