Sympathy for the Villain?

I was thinking about the concept of grace last week when I flashed on a scene from Streetcar Named Desire.  Blanche hears a declaration of sorts from Mitch and, recognizing the man provides a real lifeline to her, responds “Sometimes there’s God so suddenly!”  I smiled at Blanche’s recognition of Grace until I remembered what I think of her.  Friends and neighbors, I hate Blanche duBois and I don’t care who knows it.  That aging, insecure, Southern Belle works my last nerve and I’d rather sympathize with the devil.  Think about Blanche’s role in the play – She’s the fly in the ointment, the wrench in the machinery and the source of the play’s conflict.   She shows up at her sister Stella’s home uninvited and unannounced to sponge off her for the rest of the play.  Okay, everyone needs help now and then but does Blanche show an atom of gratitude?   No, that narcissist takes up the center of the stage, hogging the bathroom and the liquor, and expects her pregnant sister to wait on her hand and foot.  She never tries to get a job or her own place and when she’s not demanding sympathy or the red-carpet treatment,…

The Failure of Good Intentions: A Passage to India
I know a Good Story / May 29, 2015

It’s a phrase they teach  that makes no sense on its face.  How can the road to Hell be paved with Good Intentions?  If someone starts a course of action with benevolent goal in mind, the results should be good as well.  Well, history and nature say otherwise.  Sometimes the failure comes from lack of imagination: rabbits were sent to Australia as pets and a possible food source about the same time Kudzu was introduced to the U. S. as an anti-erosion measure.  Both brought the disasters of an invasive species: Australia was forced into biological warfare to keep the rabbit population in check and Kudzu is known as “The Vine that Ate the South.”  Sometimes the well-intentioned element fails because of lesser parts of human nature.  Prohibition was called “The Noble Experiment” with the idea that making booze illegal would make people stop drinking.  Instead, people bought and drank unregulated, untaxed hootch and created a market for organized crime.  Sometimes everyone starts out with the best of intentions and still end up in tragedy. Some people may look to Romeo and Juliet as their choice for this mess but for me, it’s E. M. Forster’s A Passage to India….

The Great American Summer Novel
I know a Good Story / May 24, 2015

People argue about the Great American Novel.  Some folks say it was Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn since it captures the assets and liabilities in our national character.  Others suggest it is an epic of exploration like Lonesome Dove or (since we are a restless people, obsessed with reinvention) The Great Gatsby.  To me, the question is open because these and others are all brilliant, beloved works but I’m sure about one thing: Gatsby is a Great American Summer Novel. As a nation, we honor the summer months.  It’s the only season charted by three national holidays: Memorial Day opens the season, July 4th is near its mid-point and Labor Day waves summer good-bye.  Three times in (roughly) 90 days people traditionally take off work, recreate in the great outdoors, and, with luck, remember the sacrifices of others that gave us these freedoms.  Because we started as a rural nation, children missed school during the summer months, when they’re needed the most on farms and that three month break is still a big part of our culture.  To us, summer is a season of work that’s balanced by freedom.   It’s also the season of Gatsby. Take a look at your old…

Evidence of Miracles: Their Eyes Were Watching God
I know a Good Story / May 21, 2015

It’s hard to write well about miracles.  They blindside you and because they’re so unexpected, it’s hard to frame lead ins for them.  With other stories, the author can add foreshadowing and clues to point the reader in a general direction but miracles come without warning.  Sometimes the miracle is such a surprise, that people refuse to believe it occurred.  I have my share of skepticism but I do believe in miracles and I love when they happen.  That’s probably why I love the book  Their Eyes Were Watching God.  As far as I’m concerned, the story in the book, the story of the book and the story of the woman who wrote it are all walking proofs of providence. Let me start out with the writer, Zora Neale Hurston.  She was one of eight children born to an African-American minister and his wife who lived in Alabama.  She was born with talent, strong will and a brain but luck rarely favored children in poor, black families in the 1890’s.  It did when her father moved his family to Eatonville, Florida, one of the first incorporated, all-black, towns in America.  Zora’s self-confidence grew in a society where a resident’s destiny…

The Wright Stuff
I know a Good Story / May 17, 2015

There they are, pictured in American History books, looking like would-be models for a Grant Wood painting: Orville and Wilbur Wright, two men idolized for their achievement in flight but unknown and unknowable beyond that remarkable fact.  These tall, thin men appear in the history of mankind, one of them skimming over a sand dune in a contraption of wood struts and fabric while the other stands alongside.  Then they disappear again.  Most people can’t tell you which brother is in the flying machine. Until recently, we’ve seen them as aviation’s first pair of ciphers. By contrast, David McCullough has devoted his life to creating a greater understanding of American individuals and events that shaped this country’s history and his new book, The Wright Brothers goes a long way toward demystifying and humanizing this legendary pair.   In many ways, it takes someone like McCullough to point out the history of these remarkable brothers is a quintessential American tale.  Born in the mid-west as the grandchildren of immigrants, Orville and Wilbur had the singular good fortune of having enlightened, loving parents.  Their father was a traveling minister who loved learning almost as much as he loved God.  Bishop Wright encouraged his…